Long in the shadow of rising China and ritzy Japan, South Korea has traditionally had to try that bit harder than its near neighbors to attract international media attention. As a result, some believe the country has developed an inordinate curiosity about the ways foreigners perceive it and that would partly explain a fascinating photography exhibition taking place in Seoul.
A team of 20 from the renowned photo agency Magnum including Elliott Erwitt and Steve McCurry took pictures of South Koreans doing everything from playing to patrolling the Demilitarized Zone to praying at one of the world's largest churches. Over a year, at least 2,000 images organized under eight themes from society and city to education and entertainment were taken. A little over 430 are now on display. "We wanted to see how foreigners see our country," explains Ha Soo Jeong, senior coordinator for the "Magnum Korea" project. "We wanted to borrow their eyes and techniques."
So far, the exhibition commissioned by a South Korean publishing company at a cost of around $2 million has been a raging success. In fact, it is poised to become the most popular photography exhibit ever held in South Korea. Since early July, more than 42,000 visitors have strolled through the doors of the Hangaram Art Museum at the Seoul Arts Center, www.sac.or.kr, and another 50,000 visitors are expected to view the images before the show wraps up on Aug. 24.
The project, mostly shot in 2007, has also been Magnum's biggest ever professional undertaking, with the photographers spending anywhere from 10 to 60 days on the peninsula. The aim, says Ha, "is to get the attention of the world."
Admission fees are $10 for adults, $5 for children.