“Memories of Wandering” celebrates Korean artist Bae Bien-U who is renowned for creating meditative landscape photographs, which have an almost calligraphic quality about them.

The leitmotif behind his photographs is a reflection on communion and the possible osmosis of man with nature – the source of life – with which we must live in harmony.

Bae began taking pictures in the 1970s using traditional analog techniques. From 1980 till 2000, he utilised the best quality camera and film, developing his photographs in a dark room and printing them via gelatin silver process on high-quality papers. At that time, photography was not considered as fine art in Korea. Bae considers this period, before the digital revolution, as the ‘golden era of photography’.

On current developments, the artist notes “Recently, more people are showing interest in gelatin silver prints and analog photographs. The corona pandemic has given us more time to look back at natural processes. I went back to my old prints, both framed and unframed. I recall the memories and summon all the emotions when I was in the darkroom and the times when I wandered around the forests and seaside to take photos. I feel the true beauty of the photography.”

These traditional prints are created with glossy photo paper and non-glossy warm tone Ektalure photo paper, which is currently unavailable as Kodak stopped the production of this particular paper in 2000. The hand-crafted process creates a sense of physicality in these photographs.

Certain spots from the chemicals and dust holes in the prints had to be manually filled by the artist. This physical act of retouching is so meticulous, time-consuming, and almost meditative that Bae compares it to traditional painting. “When I look at these photo prints in this time of digitalisation, I feel they are classic.”

“Memories of Wandering” – now on show at Axel Vervoordt Gallery Hong Kong – is comprised of sixteen small works, all hand-printed by Bae Bien-U. Every photograph is unique, as no other editions were ever printed in this small format. They consist of different series: Seascapes, Sonamu (Pine Trees), and Orum (Windscapes). Two works are photographed in Olympic Park, Seoul, and HIA in Hyang-il am, Yeosu along the southern coast.

All pine trees were taken in Gyeongju, the Sea- and Windscapes were all photographed in Jeju, a volcanic island with a particularly unique climate as a result. In each photograph, Bae captures the energy of life that is believed to pass through them. The ritual of coming and going, of man’s short “encounters” in life and nature.

Bae Bien-U’s images bring to mind a perhaps romanticised, but quintessentially Zen perspective on our surroundings. Looking at the photographs can be experienced as a visually and spiritually dewy pilgrimage. They mediate between heaven and earth and are important in many rituals of life and death.

Through 19 October 2020
Axel Vervoordt GAllery website