This series has been made over three years, while I was visiting home, South Korea, for summer and winter break. My grandmother was attending to the care of my grandfather who suffered from dementia. They were married for sixty years, each other’s lifetime companions, and then my grandmother became the caregiver whose work was unrelenting. These photographs reflect their bond, but also my grandmother’s struggle and fatigue. Their world was centered at home because my grandfather often gets out of control when he is outside of the house. My work continued after my grandfather’s death observing my grandmother’s new experience being alone. Photographing in such a limited environment has made me pay close attention to subtleties of gesture and the meaning for spatial relationships between them. – Sora Woo
Sora Woo (b.1991) is a visual artist and photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her works concentrate on observing the spatial relationship between humans and place. Woo is interested in discovering the threads of human interaction and what occurs after the absence of a person. Woo’s photographs capture a moment in the slow process of the passage of time. She not only depicts the passing of time, but also points out the physical and spiritual aspects of the “Irreversible”. Sora received her MFA from Pratt Institute, New York in 2018 and BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2015.
View Sora Woo’s website at www.sorawoo.com.
Lifetime Companion: Photographs by Sora Woo
by Allen Frame
The intimate domestic space shown in Sora Woo’s photographs of her grandparents at home in South Korea is both a physical and psychological space. Physically, the place is the grandparents’ apartment, which provides context for their relationship. The space they occupy sitting or sleeping frames their activity, but more revealing is the particular space in between them. They sit in close proximity but are often at different angles, as if in different worlds or states of mind, and in fact, they are indeed separated by the grandfather’s condition of dementia. Woo’s grandmother is his caregiver, and her devotion and sense of duty are indicated by her constant, close presence. In the photograph of them posed together, facing front, she is gazing directly at the photographer, while his eyes are turned away. His focus is elsewhere. The important space of this work is the internalized space of this difference in mental acuity and all that it implies; the grandfather is in his own reality, while the grandmother is attuned to his condition, responsible for his welfare, and living with her own response, which includes a loyal sadness and her own fatigue.
The photographer, who was reared by these grandparents, has disappeared into the role of observer; no longer the child being taken care of, she is now the photographer with empathy for the situation, and perhaps, curiosity to see her grandfather in the role she once played herself, the innocent to be looked after. The pictures are about three kinds of memory, the one the photographer, who has left to study in the U.S. and has now come back to make photographs, brings with her in reacting to a new set of circumstances; the memory that the grandmother has for the 60 years in which her life was joined with her husband’s; and the grandfather’s memory, now fixed in an experience of the present.
The gravity of these sensibilities overlapping in a confined space is evoked by quiet, subtle shifts in the positions and gestures of the two companions in their daily routines. Their actions are now circumscribed by the grandfather’s condition, but their dignity and individuality are still apparent. The profound meaning of this dedication between two people, and of the careful and precise scrutiny by the photographer, builds through the series, each image adding depth and insight into a moving, clear vision of the final stages of a lifetime.
할아버지는 치매에 걸려 집 밖으로 나갈 수 없고
그런 할아버지 곁엔 항상 할머니가 있다.할 일이라곤 달력 보기, 화투, 담배밖에 남지 않은 할아버지는
하루에도 수십 번 했던 행동을 반복하고 질문하는데,
할머니는 기꺼이 그 외로운 싸움을 함께 한다.
이제 그들에게 세상은 집이 되었고
그 작은 공간에서 펼쳐지는 24시간은 잔잔하지만 치열하다.2011년 징후들로 시작된 이 소리 없는 전투가 이제는 일상이 된 부부는
각자의 일과에 충실하며 하루를 살아낸다.
여전히 달력만 보고 화투만 치고 담배만 태우는 할아버지
그리고 그런 할아버지 곁에서 곤히 낮잠을 청하는 할머니,
그 풍경 속엔 두 개의 서로 다른 궤적이 얽혀가며
펼쳐지는 모습이 보이는 것 같다.무엇으로도 설명하기 어려운 그 풍경을 응시하며
손녀가 할 수 있었을 것이라곤
그저 그 모습을 기록하는 것밖엔 없었는지도 모른다.
꾹꾹 하고 누른 셔터 소리 너머로 다양한 이름의 감정선들이
잠시 한지점에 이미지가 되어 모였다.
많은 것들이 묻어 나오는 사진 속엔 묘한 떨림마저 들어있다.2013년부터 시작되어
2016년 할아버지의 장례식을 다녀온 할머니의 모습으로 끝나는
Life Companion (인생의 동반자) 시리즈는,
실제 작가가 본인의 외할머니, 외할아버지의
일상을 체험하며 기록한 일종의 투병기로써,
오랜 세월 속 축적된 유대감으로 묵묵히 서로를 지키며 이별을 동행하는
노부부의 애틋한 풍경을 우리에게 담담히 보여주고 있다.