Guryong Village in Seoul
Guryong Village is an enormous shantytown in Seoul’s wealthiest district, Gangnam. It was formed in the 1980s, when thousands of people were pushed out of their homes by redevelopment projects for the Olympic Games. The 2,400 residents of Guryong Village live in shelters cobbled together from plywood, metal, sheets of plastic, even cardboard boxes amid some of Seoul’s most expensive real estate. My mother has lived in Guryong Village for the past decade; I lived there for three years prior to moving to Chicago in 2012.
In the winter of 2014 and fall of 2015, I visited her for six weeks, documenting the village, and providing much-needed photographic services, such as passport photos and funerary images. This project was a very personal one, but it was also political. In making portraits of my family members and their neighbors, I wanted to do more than show my great respect for them, I also wanted to call attention to the struggle of their daily lives. There was a sense of urgency in my documenting the physical spaces that they have called home for so long, given that this village is now scheduled to be redeveloped–these people are certain to be displaced once again. Rather than showing the shabbiness and miserableness of poverty in the neighborhood, I wanted to bring out a question about the socio-political and structural reason why the shanty town had to be built, and how human nature has worked there. The outside observer may see in these homes nothing but crushing poverty; what I see, as an inside observer, its ingenuity, perseverance, and pride.