‘Gyeobgyeob (重重)’: The survived Korean women who had been left in China – ‘Comfort Women’

Processes of seeking the truth in a photograph would be enjoyable, but difficult. A photographer is creating relations with the object that s/he takes in order to incorporate the inner truth, not the ‘seeing’ truth, into the photograph. The relations with the survived Korean Comfort Women, who were mostly in their 70s and 80s, did not happen accidentally. It took me a long time to get to know them. When I first encountered these women, they were very shy and treated me as a stranger. But we became closer each other as we met many times. It was fortunate for me to have opportunities to understand the deepest part of their hearts, listening to their stories and witnessing their hardship. I am privileged to make some contributions to them as a photographer.

When the survived Korean Comfort Women were forced to stay in China in 2001, the contact with them made me understand much better their situations. I saw the individual women selling things on the bus, or on the train, or on the ship for living. Such a miserable way of living seemed to mirror their past lives as the displaced. This harsh reality made me visit to China five times to find out them.

While staying with them, I captured the moments of their everyday life into my camera, and this work required an extreme tension. I was already thrown into their world and into their expressions of joy and sorrow. But when I looked into the viewfinder of my camera, I realized that it was not easy to cross freely the boundary and the object. But I tried to contain some truth about them, being tensely aware of the dangerous borderland between the object as the victims as ‘Comfort Women’ and their human side.

The woman that was incorporated into my viewfinder was the human being. The photo revealed her grudging heart expressed in her tearful eyes, the deep furrow of her wrinkles and her stained belongings. This certainly reflected both the present and past life of the woman.