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Johsel Namkung – A Retrospective

Book Review

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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George Parks Highway, Alaska - September, 1987

I received an email from a publisher, Dick Busher of Cosgrove Editions, asking whether I would be interested in a book that he was publishing about a wonderful photographer 'Johsel Namkung'. Having not heard of the photographer before I made good use of the full book preview available at the website and was instantly transported. The style, reminiscent of Eliot Porter but with echos of Harry Callahan in his abstract work, is one of considered detail. This are the illustrations to the never published Zen and the Art of Landscape Photography.

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Point of Arches, Olympic National Park, Washington - August, 1981

I ordered a copy immediately and waited a couple of weeks for delivery (I received free delivery so could not complain). On arrival it was apparent why the book cost as much as it did. This book is three feet wide when opened and the reproduction is sublime. Each image ends up being presented at 11" x 14", enough to revel in the fine details of hillsides, grasses and geological details therein. For the printer geeks this is an ultra hi-resolution stochastic screen process which just means very smooth colours with no visible dot pattern and incredible detail.

All of this is bound in an extra thick, silk wrapped end boards with a tipped in 8x10 on the front cover. You can buy a limited edition of one of 250, signed with a slip case for an additional fee and also a clamshell collectors edition with a 16" x 20" print.

As for Johsel himself, he was born in Korea but married a Japanese wife and emigrated via China and Japan, finally to the US where he developed a successful career as a classical singer. Unfortunately his association with a Korean Marxist superior at the University led to his deportation order during the McCarthy era.

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Winton, Washington - October, 1975

Although he finally overcame the order, his music career was damaged and he took a job as a language specialist for Northwest Airlines which meant that he was unable to practise. As a creative outlet he took up photography and apprenticed to a local artist which culminated in a workshop with Ansel Adams.

He decided quite early that the studies he was making deserved the ultimate reproduction quality and a colleague gifted him the money to buy a large format camera system - supposedly he was one of the first photographers to heavily invest in producing tableau sized art prints.

He also had a strong association and admiration for Mark Tobey who attended many of his families soirees and played piano to Johsel's singing. Tobey influenced Johsel's abstract images also.

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Rocky Run, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington - March, 1977

He took a job as a microscopy photography at the university of Washington which gave him the opportunity to explore the local area.

His first major exhibition was at the Henry art gallery alongside his first book "The Olympic Rain Forest". A major exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 1978 and one in 2006 bookended the production of the majority of the images in this book from Washington and Alaska with a few taken from trips to Korea.

His wife died in 1999 which affected him very deeply and it was only recently that he started to photograph again and found a soul mate with which to share his life with again.

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Keungogae, Korea - February, 1987

A very good history is included in the book but you can read more here. There is also an 'oral history' interview here.

Beyond Words have imported the book and although it is an expensive buy at £117, it is one of the best produced books I have seen and if you are a fan of Eliot Porter of the Korean/Japanese style of photography from photographers such as Bae Bien-U and Shinzo Maeda we think you will like this a lot. For more details visit the Beyond Words website.

If you are outside of the UK, please take a look at the Cosgrove Editions website dedicated to Johsel Namkung. Where you can also browse through the whole book here.

 

 



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