South Korea has undergone rapid change over the last century, with Seoul metamorphosing from the first East Asian city to light its royal palace with electricity to arguably the most modern city in the world. Photographer Sungseok Ahn captured change by setting up a screen and projecting the old on top of the new.
I ran across Ahn’s work after he was nominated for a Sony World Photography Award this spring. His project, Historic Present, is similar in concept to other historical photo collages we’ve seen lately.
But this one, unlike those projects, isn’t the work of some clever Photoshop. Lugging a beam projector, a generator, and a laptop across the city, Ahn set up dozens of photo shoots that captured landmarks — either former or current — behind historical images taken from the same vantage.
Always shot at dawn or dusk, the images are beautiful and weird, with the past looking like a picture-window into an alternate universe.
Paradoxically, Ahn had the idea not at home, but while travelling in Europe. “I realised I had never ‘travelled’ Seoul before and that felt very strange,” he explains. So when he got home, he checked himself into a guest house full of foreign tourists and then, well, hung out with them for a month. “I visited historic places with the people I stayed with and brought English translated tour books with me,” he says. “I obtained a new perspective about Seoul.”
When the World Photography Organisation asked him to describe what he hoped we’d all take away from the project, Ahn gave a stark, but frank, answer: “Someday all of us will disappear like others in the old pictures. Things change and we will be gone.” [Sungseok Ahn; World Photography Organisation]