▲ Jeju's doldam, or stone walls, while a brisk wind blows. The gaps between rocks allow them to withstand even typhoon-force winds. Photo by Kang Junghyo
Through the Lens is a series of interviews with leading photographers inspired by Jeju's culture and nature.
Even Jeju people might wonder, what is the one thing Mt. Hallasan and Jeju’s stone walls have in common. The answer is simple, says Kang Junghyo, a 50-year-old, Jeju-born photographer:
"You can see them everywhere, from every corner of Jeju Island."
Kang published ‘Jeju Doldam, Stacked by Wind’ in January this year, and the book contains 130 photographs illustrating the origin, length, purposes, and preservation measures for Jeju’s stone walls, all vivid historic evidence of Jeju’s thousand-year-old tradition.
It might be true that Jeju people do not realize the importance and value of Jeju’s stone walls as they are so ubiquitous and an everyday part of life.
Jeju’s doldam (literally “stone wall” in Korean) were recently listed as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last April.
Truly, they are symbolic of the wisdom of Jeju Islanders, demonstrating how they have long harnessed the harsh nature of this barren, volcanic island.
Kang agrees, saying, "Jeju stone walls are not merely the agricultural heritage of Jeju Island; they should be seen from cultural, humanistic, and aesthetic points of view"
Jeju's stone walls demarcate field boundaries between neighbors and also play important roles in protecting agricultural produce from livestock put out to pasture.
They are built as people clear the volcanic soils, removing buried stones and piling them up for use in the field walls.
Their simple design is also adapted to Jeju’s strong winds, and can withstand even the harshest storms to hit the island.
"See the gaps between the loosely stacked rocks? Wind breaks through the spaces. Jeju stone walls show that it is true to say that Jeju people accommodated the wind, rather than conquered it.”
There are thought to be a total of 6,355km of stone walls across the island, but Kang says this urgently needs monitoring due to the rearrangement of traditional field boundaries and sprawling development.
It is hoped that the UN FAO designation will boost further research for re-measurement and preservation efforts to protect this valuable agricultural and cultural asset.
▲ Kang believes that the most important role for a photographer is to document historic facts. Photo by Kang Junghyo
Photographer profile: Kang Junghyo
Kang Junghyo (50) started to photograph Jeju’s stone walls in 1992 when he worked for a local newspaper as a photojournalist. Seeing Jeju through his camera’s eyes over 15 years allowed him to rediscover the true value and beauty of Jeju’s disappearing nature and culture. Kang believes that the most important role for a photographer is to document historic facts, and currently he is passionately involved in conservation projects to preserve Jeju’s stone walls and utilize them as cultural assets.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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