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[Interview] Dreaming of a New Discovery on This Land Aerial Photographer Shin Byeong-Moon

[Interview]Dreaming of a New Discovery on This Land
Aerial Photographer Shin Byeong-Moon
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1. Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

After studying geography at university, I began taking pictures of Korea’s land, and I have been doing it ever since. In recent years, I have become a full-time photographer who documents places all across the country under the theme of “a new discovery of our land from the sky.” Since my work is mostly airborne, the weather matters greatly. As long as the weather permits, I take photographs every day. I can say I spend most of my time on the road.


2. There are many photographers, but aerial photographers like you seem to be quite rare. How did you begin to take pictures while paragliding?

While I was studying geography, I was always curious to know the actual features of our land and the scenes of life based on it. From my freshman year, this curiosity led me to traverse the country with a great zeal. Then one day, I was struck by the idea that I would be able to see every nook and cranny of our land better from above. While searching for ways to do this, I came across powered paragliding, which I then took up.


3. I have heard that you take aerial photographs using your own equipment. I assume that this isn’t easy, even from the preparation stages. What is the most difficult thing about aerial photography?

First of all, I need nature’s permission. I mean the weather. I can take pictures only when it is fair and the wind speed is lower than a certain rate. Next are the preparations. I need a spacious lawn or grounds for take-off. Then I check my engine and all my equipment. By the time I take off into the sky with my camera, you may say that half of my work is already done. While taking pictures, I must always be thinking about places for making an emergency landing if my engine suddenly dies or the wind changes. When it comes to the seasons, spring is bad due to the fine dust and unpredictable wind. Summer is also not good due to the long rainy season, occasional typhoons, and the frequent rain in general. In the fall, persistent fog obstructs my work, and in winter, my biggest trouble is the cold.


4. You said that the theme of your work is “a new discovery of our land from the sky.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by “new discovery?”

My goal is to photograph our country as if scanning the whole of it. From the photographs, I will discover diverse, distinctive features. When we look at the globe, we find Korea to be comparatively small. However, a closer look shows that we have a multifarious environment. We have a vast orographic terrain where the rivers form wide, expansive fields before flowing into the ocean, and the natural course of the rivers brings out varied scenes. Moreover, we have four seasons, so a single location will look different based on the time of year. We can say that a single spot can present at least double features, seasonally. The country is surrounded by the sea on three sides, and the sight of our thousands of islands, long coastlines, and mudflats is nothing short of magnificent. This three-dimensional scenery is visible only from the sky.


5. This might be a common question, but which of all the spots you have photographed is the most unforgettable for you?

The mudflats on the west coast of Korea, including those in Sinan and Taean, present truly varied views. I still vividly remember the impression I got when I first spotted a tree-shaped waterway in a stretch of muddy land in Sinan and Muan Counties. It would be no exaggeration to say that the area is evidence of the hand of God with all its diverse shapes and colors. In contrast, the spectacle I saw in the mudflats of Taean and Seosan was that of the numerous people gathered there to work.


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A tree-shaped waterway in the mudflats off of Docho Island in Sinan County, South Jeolla Province

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Mudflats in Padori, Sowon-myeon, Taean County, South Chungcheong Province

6. As you are concerned about environmental deterioration, you have photographed not only beautiful scenery but also sites of environmental problems. Please tell our readers more about that.

My hometown is a village near Namji in Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang Province, where the Nakdong River flows nearby, and I have personally witnessed how the river changed after the Four Major Rivers Project. After the project, severe algal blooms that I had never seen before began to appear. I wanted to trace the change that occurred after the Four Major Rivers Project, so I photographed all four rivers. When I looked down at them from the sky, they were covered with severe algal blooms where barrage dams had been newly built. I also surveyed sites of large-scale construction work like Saemangeum and quarries.


7. Please tell our readers about the Korea Discovery Project, which you have been carrying out for years.

The Korea Discovery Project has been an endeavor to document Korea from 2011 to 2022 as seen from the sky and on land. The 10-odd-year-long project archives Korea’s human and natural geographic elements, including mountains, rivers, and the sea, in photography. The project will be finished with the publication of its documented outcomes. Through the project, I have aimed to newly discover our lives and surroundings. As far as I know, no one has closely documented Korea from the sky, so this may be the first attempt to do so. Feeling a little bit like Kim Jeong-ho (pen name Gosanja), who created the first map of Korea, I am working on the project to document our land from the sky and to leave it to the next generation.


8. Lastly, what are your future plans and wishes?

The Korea Discovery Project will likely achieve its aims by the end of this year. Someday, I would like to take pictures of the Korean Demilitarized Zone and other areas where photography is banned for military security reasons, as well as all of North Korea. I would also like to capture foreign countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, and India. Photographing the beautiful sights of certain countries is all right, but I am more inclined to document sites that embody global themes such as environmental and climate problems. It is difficult to set an exact date for this project, but I would like to do it for the next 10 years.