What's it about?
My photo art book on the mountains of North and South Korea is about more than mountain photography and essays. It is about connecting the people of Korea through the exposition of a mountain system that spans both nations. It is a culmination of ten years of photographic work in both North and South Korea, exploring the peaks, villages, and people of the 1700km mountain spine called the Baekdu Daegan 백두대간 (The Great Ridge of Paektu).
Since 2011, I have conducted four expeditions of the untrodden mountains of the Baekdu Daegan in North Korea covering at least seventy peaks totalling almost half a year’s work. My most recent visit was last year (2017) for ten weeks. This photo art book will be the third edition of this series, but the first English language edition (alongside the already funded Korean edition). I want to spread the beauty of a unified Korea to the English market. It will be a hard-case cover with dust jacket, 30 x 23cm, and about 250p. It will contain what I believe are my best images and essays from South Korea since 2007 and the North since 2011.
What is the Baekdu Daegan 백두대간?
The Baekdu Daegan is a continuous mountain ridge, never cut by water, that forms the backbone and watershed of the entire Korean peninsula. It starts at Korea’s highest and holiest peak, Paektu-san 백두산 (2750m) on the Chinese border. From there, it wrangles south to the demilitarized zone, creeps under its barbed wire fences, and continues south, snaking its way to Cheonwang-bong 천왕봉 (1915m) located in another sacred zone called Jiri-san 지리산 (exquisite wisdom) in central southern Korea. Its estimated length is about 1700km. In South Korea, it is hiked as a long distance crest trail. In North Korea it remains untouched.
Some Koreans believe its true endpoint is on South Korea’s highest peak, Halla-san 한라산 (1950m), located on the outer island of Jeju 제주도. Halla-san is recognized by the Korean people as the grandmother mountain and Paektu-san in the north as the grandfather mountain, and all other mountains in-between are a collection of the entire family of Korean mountains. The Baekdu Daegan, is the spine that connects them, forming a skeletal rigidity. The waterways it forms are the blood lifelines of the Korean people, from which they harvest crops and nourish their bodies. From Paektu-san, natural energies are transmitted along the Baekdu Daegan spine, like a central nervous system, and dispersed outwards through all the lesser ridges that occupy seventy-five percent of Korea’s topography. This energy is called Pungsu-jiri (풍수지리) and the Korean people believe it provides vitality. To damage it is to damage the people. The concept of mountain lineage and energies has been with the Korean people since prehistory.
The Expeditions in North Korea
North Korea was always enjoyable yet hard work. We would travel by vehicle to the end of a valley until the stony road stopped. There we would set up camp and with a local village guide make our way up foot trails into the hills, before fighting our way through overgrown forests to the ridge crest, where we'd then climb to our selected peak. The men would rest and I would take my photos. We'd return to our camp at the end of a long day, where we'd dig into a meal of local delicacies like free-range rabbit, mountain vegetables, rice, and potatoes before sitting round the campfire sampling local alcohols like acorn soju. The conversations were always entertaining, often about the mountains, and the animals that do and could still exist in them. Bears and tigers to name some.
North Korea Mountains
The mountains were hand selected by me from maps printed in South Korea. Over the course of four expeditions, I tried to fill up the gaps on the Baekdu Daegan ridge evenly. I have climbed at least fifty if not seventy peaks of the Baekdu Daegan in North Korea. Getting to the foothills of these peaks was difficult. Without GPS we relied on old maps and local knowledge. The climbs would take whole days, and occasionally overnight bivouacs. North Korea is often depicted as a denuded landscape, but in its deep regions, it is heavily vegetated with unmanaged pristine forests. Completely undeveloped and mysterious, it is perhaps one of the last small unexplored areas in the world. It was a fascinating experience to be there. I truly hope all Koreans and foreigners can one day do as I did, on a free and peaceful unified peninsula. You can read some short essays that will be published in this book from my travels in North Korea at onekoreaphotography.
The Future for North & South Korea
As I write, the two Koreas enter a period of renegotiation. With the support of its powerful adversaries and allies, can Korea negotiate an era of peaceful cooperation? Let's see. My work on the Baekdu Daegan is developing into new realms. I wish to see the Baekdu Daegan become a symbol of unification for the Korean people, its mountain spine forming the backbone of the nation, knitting it together. Help me do this by supporting my work! I am always involved in projects that help build cultural exchange between north and south. For example:
- The search for the Korean tiger in North Korea and then through a joint North-South project, the protection and development of its transnational migration route from Siberia, China, and into North Korea, and one day, when the DMZ is gone, back into South Korea.
- A set of official postage stamps highlighting mountains of the Baekdu Daegan, north and south.
- And the biggie, a full-length, supported expedition of the 1700km Baekdu Daegan with a six-person team of two North Koreans, two South Koreans, and two foreigners. It'd be a peace trek, joined by locals and using them as a support network.
Other than the new 250p hard case photo art book the other reward I can highly recommend is the 100cm sheet of traditional handmade Korean Hanji paper with of one of my images inkjet printed on it. The slightly mottled texture of the paper brings out the soft light and grainy edges of Korea's mountains. They look spectacular either framed behind glass or just mounted. Contact me for a contact sheet of image choices.
Previous book editions
Major Photo Exhibitions of the
Baekdu Daegan North & South Korea.
- Seoul (Korea Tourism) 2009/09.
- Seoul (Korea Forest Service) 2011/12.
- New Zealand 2012/03, Pyongyang 2013/08, Seoul 2013/10.
- Seoul 2014/10.
- Pyongyang (70th anniversary of Korea's Liberation) 2015/08.
- Seoul (70th anniversary of Korea's Liberation) 2015/10.
- Otani University, Kyoto – Japan 2016/09.
- Gimpo City Art Hall 2016/11 & 2017/11.
- Pyongyang 2017/08.
- Seoul Museum of Art 2017/12.
A one hour documentary of my expeditions in North Korea by MBC TV.
Thank you all for your interest and support.
Risks and challenges
None really. If I get the fixed amount, then I will prepare the book file using the same experienced quality printer/bookmaker I always use in Seoul, Korea. The funds will be used to cover that cost and the distribution of the English (signed) photo art book. The Korean edition has already been funded in South Korea.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)