Strategy of Behavior and Photographic Gaze :
Oh, Hein-Kuhn’s Girls’ Act Series
Young June Lee
Behind every portrait photographer’s camera lurks a desire to capture the
strategy of vision employed by the subject. In many cases this strategy is
misunderstood to be the expression of the deep hidden interior of the subject.
This strategy is purely about the vision thing. In common words, this strategy
evolves around the discretion of what to show and what not to show. Here the
strategy of deception is the strategy of truth as what one sees is based upon
what one is not supposed to see. Instead of unveiling the hidden aspect of the
person, Oh, Hein-Kuhn is more interested in photographically analyzing the
strategy of vision that forms the identity of the person. Rather than
sympathizing with the person in the photograph, Oh treats her as something
like a signboard or a facade. Therefore, in terms of dealing with the mask that is
the frontispiece, portrait photography is similar to architecture photography.
Even though the strategy of vision evolves around one’s true mask and true
nature, this strategy amounts to stereotyped image of a person.
The stereotype is the name given to a certain group of people who are
believed to share a common character. The problem with the stereotype is that
a certain fixity prevents one from thinking of diverse and minute differences
working among individuals. The photographer’s task is not to create an
abstracted stereotype but to see the differences working to form the identity of
each individual person. Although the school girl is being dealt with as a cultural
and conventional category in Oh, Hein-Kuhn’s series Girl’s Act, not only each
person, but also minute details of the person are watched very closely by the
photographer’s gaze. As a result, Oh’s photographic gaze strips bare the ‘Girl’
and what is left is only the ‘Act’. Here the ‘Act’ is the very formulation of the
strategy of vision in its pure state.
The ‘Act’ is captured in two different strata of the photograph. The first strata
is related with the way in which the school girls shape their identity. In spite of
the penetrating power of photography that captures all the details of the
subject, one is left with the hidden aspect of School girls. Even in the age of
light speed communication, it is almost impossible to communicate with them
transcending the barrier of cultural and generational difference. For as the
communication grows active, the desire to shut oneself in one’s own closed cell
becomes stronger. To capture the school girl’s act means going deeper into this
special condition of being. The photograph is a very effective tool for this
capture. The ‘Act’ is frozen and made possible to observe. It reveals another
aspect of the School girls. They live under the presumption that some one is
always taking picture of them. In other words, they live in a generalized gaze
possible without a camera. Thus what we call a camera is simply an
appropriation of the school girl picture already ready without a camera and film.
That their act is captured in a photograph is an ‘event or an accident’ not only
in that something extraordinary happens but also in the sense that an element
of chance intervenes. Half a century ago the excursion for taking a picture was
a big event, and today’s photographs are also an event in the same sense. Out
of a certain karma a person stands in front of a camera and takes on a certain
countenance and pose. A photograph is intriguing for its contingency. Therefore
the school girls in Oh, Hein-Kuhn’s photographs belong to a moment that can
not be generalized as a category or a stereotype of the school girl. Roland
Barthes called this accidentalness of the moment in the photograph a Punctum.
Ultimately, the photograph can not be understood. Why is that so? For the ‘Act’
of a person is in another order of the photograph.
It is a photograph without camera, film or exposure. It is a crystallization of
narcissistic, self-revealing attitude and its visualization in which the subject acts
within or in front of the gaze. In every moment of life the school girl takes
picture of herself. The crystallization of school girl-like attitude, taste, behavior
and world view yields the picture that ‘is’ the school girl’s act. As long as she is
always ready to come forward in the gaze, the her act always makes her a
photograph in it that fills the air like the atmosphere. Indeed, every human
being behaves thinking that there is always a gaze from someone. That is why
their act is visualized in their outfit and appearance. The school girls featured in
Oh, Hein-Kuhn’s photographs are especially aware of such a gaze so as they
are specifically interested in acting.
However, a simple fact of revelation will not make Oh’s photographic works
interesting enough. In them we see something other than revelation. It is about
unfolding. First, the school girls unfold their act of being a school girl. Second,
the photographer unfolds his method of taking picture of them. Last, the
photographs themselves unfold to form a series acts of repetition, semblance,
differentiating and closure. In this three-way folds of unfolding, we see acting at
its most complicated stage. At last, human act is a part of camera act. Oh,
Hein-Kuhn is one of very few photographers who can capture both acts. We will
watch his photographic act with curious eyes.