‘Honmu 魂巫’: Bodily movements that evoke the souls

Shamanism in Korea is to provide an embodied space where spirits and a human being become oneness and play together. This native religion implants emotion in our heart that is harmony and communication of heavenearthman which requires in everyday life.

When I first went to a gut-pan (lit. means ‘shaman ritual’ – ‘space for playing’, or space where shaman ritual takes place), I did not dare to gain access to such an entirely unfamiliar performance setting: for instance, incredibly loud sounds that played on the musical instruments – the jing, janggo, jingles; horrible pictures that portrayed gods; the face of a shamaness that changes all the time flourishing knives in a red dress. It took me a long time to understand a gut, though still retaining its strangeness, and I tried to look the soul that was hidden in the other side of the shaman.

Human beings pray gods who possess more powerful force for their fortune. This results in a gut that follows a religious process. The shaman(ess) who presides the gut achieves in communication with spirits, and the gut-pan is the space where spirits and people meet. The shaman(ess), who was possessed by a spirit and worships a variety of spirits, is able to communicate all kinds of spirits unlikely the human being. In a narrow definition s/he also communicates the souls of ancestors and to connect them to people as the medium.

Facial expression and gesture of the shaman(ess) during the ritual performance was quite different from when s/he doesn’t perform. S/he evokes a various kinds of spirits and makes fun of spirits with ritual procedures that include songs and dances. Then s/he calls them to the performance space and at the same time lets the spectators or customers enjoy the performance and communicate with the spirits. While in ritual performance, I was able to see indirectly the god’s capacity that came in contact with lots of spirits and souls throughout the shaman.

Charismatic power can be seen in the expressions and gestures of the shamaness that changes at any time shuddering. At the moment that the shamaness wields knives and then climbs on the sharp blade of the fodder-chopper with bare feet, my belief in gods attains the summit. The gut-pan becomes the embodied space for harmonizing with all kinds of gods and the people. It also links to the space where people pray gods for fortune with enjoyment and in turn gods receive their pray.

At the start of taking photos, I thought that the mental root should be incorporated into a photo. Immediately I pursued this, traveling all over the country. Such experiences led me to look into Korean culture, and I believed that shamanism was its essence. Since then the subject of shamanism became the basic philosophy to my photography.

At the beginning of seeing the soul from the shamaness’ gestures and expressions I had a totally different feeling in taking photos of gut-pans comparing with other objects. As a stranger who despaired of communication and harmony with the object, I once had a chaotic period about the spiritual world. However, unnoticeably I became oneness with the shamaness and started to communicate with her soul at the moment of pressing the shutter of my camera. By becoming oneness at the space and by feeling the souls, I could press the shutter freely towards the object. This was the moment of being oneness throughout harmony with me, the shamaness and invisible spirits.

It is the moment that the boundary between spirits and human beings is connected naturally.