Kim Soo-nam

1949-2006. Lived and worked in Jeju and Seoul. Kim Soo-nam was a leading documentary photographer in Korea. He left 160,000 cuts of photographs by capturing Korean gut and Asian folk cultures since the late 1970s. Starting with an exhibition to commemorate the publication of the Gut, Korean Shamanic Ritual series (1983), he held many solo exhibitions including “Living Mythology ASIA” (1999) and “Korean Gut: Shamans 1978-1997” (2005). In 2005, he held a solo exhibition titled “Shamaninnen in Korea” at the “Shamanism Now” festival in Germany. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Chiang Mai, Thailand in February 2006, and a memorial exhibition “Kim Soo-nam Photography-Gut: Spirits” was held in 2007.

From the series Korean Gut: Shamans 1978-1997. Geoje-do Byeolshin-gut, 1986
Archival pigment print, 40×58 cm
Courtesy Kim Soo-nam Foundation
Kim Soo-nam first released photographs of gut-dang (shaman’s ritual house) and fortune-tellers’ places in Seoul via the “The Outskirts of Civilization” series in Monthly Journal Sindonga in 1979 when he was a press photographer for the daily newspaper Dong-A Ilbo. In the end of Park Chung-hee’s presidency when Saemaul Undong (New Community Movement) was conducted across the country, widespread Korean shamanism and gut were branded as negative factors that hindered the industrialization of Korea. While witnessing the government’s policy to eradicate shamanism, Kim Soo-nam began to capture with his camera the scenes of shamanism as traditional Korean religion and culture that was disappearing. For more than twenty years, Kim visited gut rituals across the country and recorded the images of shamans and believers as well as the details of shamanistic rituals, which have different characteristics from region to region in the Korean peninsula.
In particular, this exhibition presents over 20 pieces out of the 40 works that were displayed at Kim’s posthumous exhibition “Korean Gut: Shamans 1978-1997.” These were selected as his representative works and personally signed by the photographer shortly before he died. These photos cover all kinds of gut conducted in the Korean peninsula and vividly document the archetype of Korean shamanism that has almost disappeared today.
Based on the photographs, Korean gut is largely divided into three categories: gut for the living (jejaechobok-gut), gut for the dead (saryeong-gut) and gut for the shaman (shin-gut). First, Geojedo Byeolshin-gut, Ongjin Baeyeonshin-gut, Weedo Ttibaet-gut, and Jeju-do Yeongdeung-gut are community rituals for the safety of ships and big catches in many fishing villages around the Korean peninsula. Gyeonggi-do Dodang-gut and Eunsan Byeolsin-gut mainly have characteristics of local religious rituals in farming areas while Yangju Sonori-gut is classified as a ritual to prevent misfortune and bring good luck to a family. Hwanghae-do Jinogwi-gut, Pyeongan-do Dari-gut, Jeolla-do Ssitgim-gut, and Suyongpo Sumang-gut are designed to console the souls of the deceased and lead them to the next world. Lastly, Hwanghae-do Naerim-gut, the initiation ritual for a female shaman, documents how a spiritual shaman is born through a necessary transcendental experience called sinnaerim. [HAN Sunhee]