Oriol Casanovas is a freelance photographer who has stopped on Jeju to recoup before his next project that aims to document all 911 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Casanovas replied “friendship” when asked by The Jeju Weekly what had brought him to the island, in the middle of a journey that has taken him from Spain to India, Norway, Kashmir, Southeast Asia, and other countries in over 10 years.
The UNESCO project is called Our Place, which seeks to “use photographs to promote the world's heritage to the widest possible audience” so that “[people] will begin to care for the world’s heritage.”
Casanovas is one of a team of 24 photographers employed to record the heritage database and recently found himself on a one-and-a-half month trek through Scandinavia as part of this mission.
In Norway he photographed the mining town of Røros. “It’s a curious place because they made the mining works there for 300 years,” he said. “They stopped in the 70s... so you see the different processes [used] while developing the mining works in this huge area.” Another place on the Norwegian leg of his journey that caught Casanovas’ attention was the medieval wooden stave church, Urnes.
“Then from there I went to Sweden [where] I shot in Skogskyrkogården. It’s a really incredibly nice cemetery. I was shocked by this place,” he continued.
Each one of Our Place’s 24 photographers uses the same kind of camera which is provided by project sponsors Panasonic.
“I shoot with a Panasonic camera. HD1,” said Casanovas. “It’s a small camera. It’s a three-fourths camera ... For this kind of traveling and moving around very fast, because I have to be in each place three to four days maximum, it’s a very comfortable camera.”
For Casanovas, this reciprocal relationship goes beyond simple preservation of sites and demonstration of a camera’s technical ability. “It’s promoting the values of humanity, common values in humanity ... There are values that are universal. There are values that go beyond the nationalism of frontiers and of barriers. There are values that transcend political acts and small human miseries. These are values that are human, simply, and you find them in all parts of the world, and that is fantastic.”
Casanovas got his start in photography by traveling and promoting humanity. Though he had taken pictures to document moments in his life, he didn’t become a freelance photographer until moving to India to work with an NGO which focused on child education, health, and community development.
“I realized it was very important to reflect the thing happening ... through the only way I could develop. That was pictures.” Upon his return to Spain, AGFA (a prominent company in the photography industry) published the work. “I continued in small projects and this was my starting point, just explaining different stories from India.”
Travel has shown Casanovas’ many sides of the human character, and not every destination has been as tranquil as a church in the Norwegian fjords. However despite having seen the worst in people, Casanovas maintains faith in what is fundamental to human beings.
“The most dangerous moment, I think I was in Kashmir ... [the Indians] were very near to invading Pakistan, and I didn’t want to be there. In fact I was just traveling ... but then you find the conflict.”
“At that moment there were some bombings in Kashmir, all over Kashmir ... but you see when the conflicts blow up then you are in the middle ... and craziness comes and this and that, but the persons are just persons. Each one is a good person,” he said.
Though travel motivated him to begin a career in photography, it may not always be in his future. “I would like more or less to continue in this way of living, traveling and photographing, but I realize that finally the trip isn’t new [anymore]. It’s not necessary to go anywhere, to travel. If you develop your work in your own town and your own place it’s a good way to travel as well. At the moment I like to move. The movement is something nice for me.”
That movement is in a momentary lull. While he edits and adds data to his Scandinavian pictures, Casanovas is enjoying time in a new rest house on Jeju called Tashidelek, near Pyoseon. “I shot nearly 10,000 pictures, and out of these I calculate 10 percent, so I have to deliver 900 pictures from each place. More or less it’s a 1,000 pictures, and the most difficult work for me is the metadata. Adding information in each picture, it’s really tough work.”
But why Jeju and not his home town of Tiana, Spain? Oriol has a relationship with Jeju Island that goes back to a “pilgrimage” he took through Korea. A close friend who traveled with him on that pilgrimage works here. Secondly, on a previous visit, Casanovas became enchanted with one of Jeju’s more idiosyncratic features, haenyeo.
“I am deeply impressed because it’s a matriarchy working as per women’s rules: creativity, imagination, power outside of a male way of being. It’s something really authentic and beautiful ... I love them very much because it’s a disappearing pearl ... They have a connection with the shamanist culture, so they understand very well the connection between their way of doing and the natural resources they have.”
These impressions led him to take a number of photographs of haenyeo. One in particular sticks out.
“The picture of this haenyeo was taken when [she] came out of the water, and she was tired, but [still had] a lot of energy in her ... She was looking at the capture of another colleague, but I suppose because of the cold she put this scarf on her head, and I was very lucky to take this shot.”
As for his future after the Our Place project, Casanovas is neither certain nor particularly worried. “Maybe in five years I’m not a photographer, why not? I’m very open to anything happening. I love photography but I like to write as well. I like to make so many things. Molayo [in Korean: ‘I don’t know’].”
In any case, Casanovas is set to spend some time on Jeju, hopefully taking photographs for Our Place. “Maybe they will send me to Mongolia,” he laughed, “I don’t know yet.”
To see Our Place World Heritage pictures, go to: Ourplaceworldheritage.com
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