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Wanki Min

I started thinking about the stars after the death of my closest friend in college. It made me feel like death was not a distant concept, and I was frightened. It led me to wonder, “Where is the end?” Tragedies like mass shootings, accidents, and natural disasters–these events can happen to me anytime. I became interested in the afterlife and started to take pictures of stars. I was fascinated by the sky and the universe, wondering about the concept of eternity. I thought astronomy provided clues to understand the eternal. 

While taking pictures of stars, I started to think about the concepts of time and light. The light we see from stars travels through space for thousands or millions of years. Some stars are already dead, exploded into supernovas or collapsed into black holes, but they still appear alive to us on Earth. 

The phrase "people turn into stars" comes from science. When thinking about eternity, the afterlife, and death, I was comforted by the fact that the Earth also has a life cycle, and when the Sun eventually collapses, the Earth will be reduced to atoms. Everything is composed of atomic structures, and when we become atoms and are dispersed in space, we will eventually become a star. Even the tiniest particle can give birth to new life.

I found this quote amusing: "When you try to draw light or shadows, you need light." Light is the beginning of everything. Photography, as a scientific medium, captures light. All colors exist because of light. Thematically, light represents eternity. Being able to see things that are billions of years away requires the travel of light, so light also serves as evidence of life that existed in a distant era. Light offers a trace of past existence and a sense of eternity. 

Visually, I have been greatly influenced by Japanese photographers. In Korea, when studying photography, you encounter a lot of documentary-style photography. I felt limited in what I could express through photography compared to painting or other mediums. I came across experimental Japanese photographers, such as Daido Moriyama and Daisuke Yokota. They deliberately increased contrast or chemically altered the film to introduce fresh colors and forms that were not in the vocabulary of traditional photography.

Though I was originally fascinated by the philosophy of the cosmos, as I delved deeper into studies of stars, I developed more of a visual interest. I began traveling to places where I could see stars, such as suburban areas and natural environments. I would connect specialized telescope lenses to a DSLR camera and shoot. Regardless of whether I traveled for astrophotography or to find respite from city life, I wanted to capture the grandeur of landscapes sculpted over time by the elements.

I am drawn to particular cities because of their infrastructure, architecture, and populations. There is an interplay between the landscape of an area and the people living there. The architecture and social infrastructure evolve according to the needs and culture of the people living in that particular environment. As time passes, the lives and stories of ordinary people accumulate to form history. I want to capture the beauty and universality of ordinary life and juxtapose it with sublime nature and the cosmos. 

I typically combine five to six layers in one work, selecting images and textures from my archives. Combining documentary photographs and telescope images can easily appear artificial if the images don't harmonize well with each other. To merge the images, I experiment with various layers and processing techniques. I also introduce texture by layering images of painted canvases with my photographs. 

The colors in my photographs are also unusual because I extract various colors through chemical reactions when I develop the film. I follow a lot of Daisuke Yokota’s developing processes. For example, the proper temperature for film development is about 30 degrees Celsius, but instead, I will develop film in boiling water. Sometimes strange colors or textures will appear, making the image look like something other than a photograph. When I repeat the process of taking a picture, printing it, and then taking another picture, the image degrades. That is another form of aesthetic expression.

Initially, my practice was about taking photos and printing them, but with film processing, I found joy in the manual process. I have buried film in the soil under dim moonlight and developed it together with the soil. I have experimented with scratching the film. It is intriguing to achieve abstract images with these processes. 
From Here to Eternity, 2022
Planet; From Here to Eternity, 2021
Lost in Constellation, 2022
Letter from Pluto, 2021
Unnamed Hill, 2019
Between Tokyo and Seoul, 2018
Unnamed Hill 2, 2019
Someday in Hong Kong, 2023

Images courtesy of the artist.
Wanki Min (b. 1988) is an artist based in Seoul, South Korea. He received a BBA from the Korea Aerospace University in 2013 and an MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in 2019. 

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