Funded! This project was successfully funded on August 25, 2012.

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Preserve stories of the people from an old leprosy community, send photographer Harry Chun to continue the documentation.

In early 20th century, Japan who occupied Korea at the time decided to confine many leprosy patients in an island called Sorokdo, at the end of the Korean Peninsula in the south. The island's name means Little Deer as it resembles the shape of a deer. It is only 5 minutes away from the mainland by boat but it was not possible for patients to come out of the island for many decades, first by law in early days and then by their own choice. In the beginning, it was operated more as a detention facility to use patients labor producing food for Japanese soldiers or materials to make weapons. Most patients were forced to move to the island by both Japanese and then Korean government after it acquired the independence but there were also many people who were abandoned by their own family and decided to move to the island. There was time the numbers of patients living in the island reached over 6,000 people but many died because of the hardship of the labor or famine after the Korean war. There are now about 600 patients living with around 100 staffs who are mostly working at the Sorok National Hospital located in the center of the island. 

   The majority of patients are elderly people passed the age of 75 and a lot of them have never left the island for over 50 years. The island became their home and the fellow patients have become their family. Leprosy whose official medical term is Hansen disease is highly curable with modern medicine and the outbreak is very unlikely. These people are the last generation with Hansen disease in Korea who had to bear, in person, the cruelty of our society and the dark side of the Korean history, a country that is also described as a successful model for its fast growth from scratch after the war.

I first photographed this community five years ago. It was not an easy task to gain their trust in the beginning. For all those years they have been accustomed to build an invisible wall against outsiders mainly to protect themselves from getting hurt again. Most of them would simply put up their guards once they saw my camera. I often handed over my camera to them telling that I was more interested in listening to their stories. If I was lucky, some of them would eventually return my camera after sharing their stories saying I could photograph them.

Each individual has an extraordinary life story of where they are from, how they got to this island and what has been like to live in the island for their entire life. I have only covered the tip of an ice burg and I feel that time is running out to ever get a chance to document these stories before too late. Most stories are heartbreaking but there are also ones that would put a smile on your face. In the end, it is the same human story about how we try to survive in this world, be happy and care for ones we love.

With traditional news outlets struggling financially, it has become even harder for a freelance photojournalist to find a way to pursue a long-term projects that can often touch our souls. Every encounter I have while working on a project like this is a learning process for me and I would like to share those experience with you but I can't do it alone. That's why I'm reaching out to you at this very moment and hope you can respond.

 저는 현재 미국 워싱턴 디씨에서 활동하고 있는 전해리라는 사진가입니다.

소록도는 많은 분들이 그 존재에 대해선 알고 있지만 상세한 역사나 현재의 상황에 대해서는 관련 기관에 일하거나 본인이 그분들의 삶에 대해 관심이 있지 않고선 아마도 쉽사리 지나칠 수밖에 없는 곳입니다.

4년 전에 한국에 돌아와 일년을 지내며 작업을 시작했습니다. 외부인으로부터 상처가 많으신 분들이라 시간을 두고 천천히 접근하려 했고 언젠가 문이 열린 이후에는 모든 일이 그렇듯 오히려 그 분들께 다가가는 것이 자연스러워졌고 많은 사연을 들으며 꾸준하게 돌아와야겠다 생각했습니다.

전남 고흥에 있는 육지에서 1km도 떨어지지 않은 이 섬에는 현재는 대략 600여분의 어르신들이 계십니다. 그 분들의 평균 연령이 이제는 어느덧 75세가 지났는데 많은 분들은 어렸을 적에 섬에 들어와 평생을 섬 안에서만 보내신 경우가 대부분이고요. 일제시대와 독립 이후 초창기에는 법적으로 섬을 나오는 것이 금지되어 있었고 그 이후에는 세상의 편견이 힘들어 차라리 같은 처지에 있으신 분들과 그대로 섬에 머무는 것이 더 마음이 편해서 지내다 지금까지 오게 된것입니다.

한센병이라고도 불리는 나병은 이제는 더 이상 발병이 극도로 드문 질병으로 이곳에 계신 분들은 단지 충분치 않던 과거의 의료기술 때문에 남은 흔적만 있을뿐 대부분은 우리 주위의 연로한 분들과 다를바가 없습니다. 하지만 외부적인 상처보다 더 심하게 남은 것은 그 분들이 살아오면서 겪어온 사람들의 편견과 무지에서 비롯한 마음의 병이였습니다. 불행하게도 우리 사회는 약자를 보호하기는 분위기를 만드는 대신 그들을 어떤 의미에서는 이 섬 안에 가두어 놓기로 결정했습니다.

소록도에서 어르신들과 함께 몇십년을 살아온 간호사 분들은 이분들이 돌아가실 멀지않은 미래에 본인들도 삶의 상당부분을 살아온 이 섬을 떠나 어디론가 가야한다는 것을 압니다. 인권이라는 단어가 더 빈번히 쓰이는 현시대에는 여러 형태로 그 분들을 위한 보상에 대한 논의가 있는 것이 사실입니다. 지금도 많은 학생들과 단체들이 꾸준히 방문하며 자원봉사를 하기도 하고요. 하지만 평생을 변두리에서 소외받으며 지내오셨던 분들께 당신들의 이야기를 해줄 대상이 있다는 사실은 그 어떤 보상도 더 큰 의미를 지닐수 있습니다. 죽어서도 그 누군가에게 기억이 될수 있는 존재가 되고픈 욕망은 어쩌면 이분들께는 더욱 강하게 느껴질수도 있고요.

카메라, 녹음기 그리고 종아와 펜을 들고 돌아가 계속해서 그 분들의 삶을 담아내고 싶습니다. 경제가 어려워지며 과거의 전통적으로 작가들의 이러한 작업들을 지원해줄수 있던 언론매체나 기관들도 많으 움츠려들은 시기이지만 근래에 발달하게된 시민들이 주가 되어 이루어지는 저널리즘은 이렇게 여러분과 같이 더 다양한 형태로 소통할수 있는 길을 열어주기도 했습니다. 제가 계속해서 이 작업을 이어나갈수 있도록 도와주시면 감사하겠습니다.

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