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Han Youngsoo
Date: South Korean, 1933 - 1999
Biography: During his lifetime Han Youngsoo (1933-1999) was little known outside of Korea. Seen from today’s vantage point, his photographs come as a surprise. With their impeccable composition, flawless timing, and scrupulous attention to social detail, they suggest the work of a long-lost Korean cousin of such early Magnum photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour (Chim), and Marc Riboud. This exhibition is the first substantial presentation of his work in the U.S. After taking part in bitter frontline fighting as a young South Korean soldier during the Korean War (1950-53), Han returned to Seoul at the war’s end and found a devastated, impoverished city. Choosing photography as a profession, he witnessed a period of profound transformation in Seoul that saw the rapid creation of a modern city and urban society. His photographs tell this story by offering a fascinating window onto the everyday lives of the city’s ordinary men, women, and children. Although he did not overlook the surviving customs and architecture of old Seoul—there are remarkable views of terraced hills crowded with traditional tile-roofed dwellings—Han was more interested in exploring the modern urban culture that was rapidly taking shape. His street portraits are filled with recognizable city types: an anxious young couple tending their sidewalk used-book stall; a self-satisfied young woman strolling in a sleek fur coat on what appears a warm fall day. Han paid special attention to the changing status of Korean women, who were then finding new roles as entrepreneurs or consumers, as suggested in his views of narrow streets lined with well-stocked fashion boutiques. After 1966 Han turned his attention to running a successful studio specializing in advertising and fashion photography. His photographs of Seoul in the postwar decade are now recognized as one of the richest and most humanly sympathetic visual records of those years.