Among Koh Young-il's photos, there aren't that many pictures of oreum. I presume it's related to the level of transportation back then. The roads were not paved as they are now, and public transportation was very rare. Today, we have well-paved network of roads and various transportation methods like rental cars and car sharing services. Because of this, it's easy to climb three to four oreums a day. But it wasn't the case back then. At such times, my father still managed to climb Yongnuni Oreum at the eastern end of Jeju. I wonder why he would, with such limited means of transportation, but there's no way to find out. Here is his photo, taken after so much toil.
When I asked my late father's friends where this oreum is, they mostly gave me this name. The shape of the ridge is "Yongnuni Oreum," known too well nowadays. Here, you can see the smooth line of the ridge and the graves spread near it. In Jeju dialect, "sandam" are the stone walls surrounding graves, which were built to keep cows and horses out. This is a very unique structure only found in Jeju. The Jeju people also tried to honor their ancestors by burying them at their farm fields, as well as at the top of scenic oreum. It embodies their belief that if the ancestors' graves are placed auspiciously, the descendants would have a good fortune.
▲ ⓒ Koh Kyung-dae, Yongnuni Oreum, 2013
I found this place in 2013. Comparing this photo with the angle that my father had taken, you can see that some graves have disappeared or were dug up. Because it is difficult to manage graves that are spread out at different oreums, some people have started to gather them at a family graveyard. That seems to be the reason behind the decrease in the number of sandam and graves. Previously, I had only known this shot of the oreum. But in 2016, three years after I took the photo myself, I found another photo of Yongnuni Oreum that my father had taken. This is that photo.
The clue that led me to identify that this is a photo of Yongnuni Oreum was a small hill in the middle of the field. It was quite coincidental.
As I lived in Gujwa-eup, I often climbed Yongnuni Oreum. While walking on the southern ridge, the view seemed somewhat familiar. When I looked it up, my father indeed had captured this place on film. The first Yongnuni Oreum photo was taken from the bottom of the Oreum looking upward to the graves and sandam. This one was taken at the ridge looking down to the same place.
What a revelation to realize that the two photos, which I had considered totally different, were of the same place! One was from atop, and the other from below. My conclusion from this experience is that I must take into account all the possibilities and take my feet around every nook and cranny. It made me realize that I must be diligent at exploring, always looking for something extra. This is the photo I took at the same location.
▲ ⓒ Koh Kyung-dae, Yongnuni Oreum, 2016
I wonder if he had a reason for being so insistent with taking the photos of this place. What was my father's intention for capturing the graves and the sandam in the middle? From both the top and the bottom!
Though I can no longer ask him, perhaps he meant to send this message: "The Jeju people have always survived in the coexistence of life and death." He would mention this many times when he talked about Jeju. Maybe he tried to find one of the distinct views that can only be found in Jeju. Though the way uphill must have been tough at the time, he must have taken the pain to take these photos for that reason. The Oreum's ridge is certainly smooth, but please, also notice the trace of Jeju Islanders in the midst of it all. My interpretation is that he found the true dimension of Jeju.
I found yet another copy of my father's photo of this place in a film I scanned in 2017.
I recognized that this was Yongnuni Oreum because of the two oreums at the top. Far out in the left corner is Dot Oreum, the large one on the right is Darangshi Oreum, and the place where you can see these two at this position is Yongnuni Oreum.
To confirm the location, I visited Yongnuni Oreum and took this photo.
Can you see how the black and white photo and the color photo are totally different? On my father's photo, do you see how beautifully this light falls on the crater? This illumination is something my color photo simply coult not capture. Let's take a look at another shot.
You can see Seongsan Ilchulbong and Udo afar, taken from Yongnuni Oreum.
▲ ⓒ Koh Kyung-dae, Yongnuni Oreum, 2017
I purposely visited it at sunrise. I wanted to take a shot of the rising sun, so the viewers would be more amazed by the color photo than the black one. But I realized I have a long way to go to go to be on par with my father.
This is how I followed my father's footsteps and captured Yongnuni Oreum on film. I believe he tried to embody the graves and sandam in the first two photos. My interpretation is that he tried to show the true face of Jeju through these. The last two photos captured Yongnuni Oreum as it is. It's there for us, unchanging, as it has always been. Though it's visited by travelers all the time now, when my father's photo was taken, it was only inhabited by the cattle in nature.
At this point, I'd like to ask my father and you, the readers:
"Ichuruk byeongheon geo geurigo an byeonhan geo boyeomsugwa? (Do you see how it has changed, and has not changed?)"
Koh Young-il (1926-2009)
Born in Jeju in 1926, he graduated from Mokpo Industrial High School and Seoul Hyehwa Vocational School. In the post-liberation period, he was an active journalist in Jeju, working as the editor for Jeju Press and as a war correspondent during the Korean War. Koh experienced the turbulent period of Korea, especially Jeju’s history.
Starting with a collaborative exhibition with Bu Jong-hyu in 1955, he held six individual exhibitions between 1957 and 1998. During this time, he was a founding member who established the Association of Jeju Photographers in 1959, Jeju Camera Club in 1965, and the Jeju branch of Photo Artists Society of Korea in 1977. After 1977, he worked as an administrative staff in the academic review department at the Photo Artists Society of Korea and continued his life as a photographer. In the 1960-70s, he left more than 20,000 photos of Jeju Island on film. His photo books include “Jeju in the 1960s” (1997) and a posthumous memorial photo book, “Jeju Underneath”(2011).
Koh Kyung-dae(1958- )
Born in Jeju, he resides in Pyeongdae-ri, Gujwa-eup, in the city of Jeju. He takes photos of the places in Jeju where his father Koh Young-il had previously photographed in the 1960 and 70s. The project is titled, In Koh Young-il’s Footsteps. Koh Kyung-dae’s hidden agenda is to illustrate that Koh Young-il photos are not mere lifeless records of the past, but what embodied each moment’s sentiment in the most familiar and animated ways.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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