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Book Review: “Jeju Volcanic Island: The Traces of Mystery,” by Seo Jae Cheol
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승인 2010.06.25  13:36:09
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▲ The coastal outcrops of Suweolbong, at Daeyasupo Port. This site, with its tuff rocks scattered beneath the cliff, is one of nine identified as part of Jeju Island's application for listing as a National Geopark.

Seo Jae Cheol’s latest book, “Jeju Volcanic Island: The Traces of Mystery,” is as much a survey of Jeju’s geological history as it is a photography book. Seo has spent his life documenting Jeju and its people. Drawing on that work, he presents 151 illustrated pages designed to educate readers, in both Korean and English.

Of course readers may expect to see many of Jeju’s more notable sights: Hallasan, Sangumburi, Manjanggul, Seongsan and Sanbangsan. Seo’s dedication to the island is evident in photographs of these landmarks, and they are captured in their various seasonal glories. However, he does not present them as mere tourist attractions but instead as prominent features of the island’s volcanic history. The book is not limited to the most popular tourist sites either. It includes sections on oreum, waterfalls, outlying islands including Udo and Gapado, and specific rock formations. The longest chapter is on three hydro-volcanoes: Seongsan, Yongmeori and Suweolbong. Of special and unusual note is a small section on Gotjawal forests and tumulus.

▲ A lava formation at Shindo-ri, Daejong-eup.

As a photography book, “Traces of Mystery” has much of what you may expect from Jeju’s most famous living photographer. It has two-page spreads of Hallasan in the snow, Seongsan at dawn, Baeknokdam with sweeping clouds and lines of verdant oreum.

Many of the photographs are well-composed with high image quality, while others are more documentary in approach. Their goal is not to elicit an emotional response, but rather to show a typical example of, for instance, columnar joint formations. Yet other photos are not especially high quality and with them a hazy day, poor negative or small digital file makes for images one might not expect to see in a coffee-table book.

None of this appears far from Seo’s goals as a photographer who has said that his work has its sole purpose in documentary, not art. Despite such stated intentions, some of the work in this book is quite artful.

▲ Mount Halla reflected in the sea near Bomok-ri in Seogwipo.

To see more of Seo’s photography sans geology, I suggest you take a look at “Volcanoes of Korean Jeju Island,” published in 2005. Though not in English, it provides a more concentrated selection of his finer work. The bilingual content of “Traces of Mystery” remains a strong suit for English-speaking readers, as so much information about Jeju is not typically available in one place and in such a vivid format.

▲ Mundoji Oreum (foreground) and Nopeun Oreum (at back) viewed from Baekyakii Oreum.

Photos courtesy Seo Jae Cheol (Love of Nature Gallery, Seogwipo), “Jeju Volcanic Island: The traces of Mystery”

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