Soldiers Military Use by Lee Hankoo

1 – 10 November 2019

Introduction:   To reveal things that can’t be revealed

Written by Poet Won Lee

There are moments when you are thrown ― places and situations that offer no choices or options. Those places are like birth. There is no choice to be made when you are born. Coming into being is just like being forcefully thrown into the world. We all came into existence by means of such a violent moment. Moments where there is no choice are not as fierce as you might imagine. You don’t become overwhelmed with grief, because you have to “live.” Being thrown is part of life, no more and no less than that. We all recognize that as reality.      

A world that doesn’t exist but exists

Army: A place that doesn’t exist on a map, a place that is not shown on maps. Many events that can’t be revealed unfold in places that don‘t exist but still clearly exist. There is a force that makes people go past their limits without providing a reason.    However, no questions can be asked as everybody is the same. It is a place where rank and order exist and must be respected. It is a place where people can become creatures that tread on four feet and where they can be forced out naked. It is a place where things need to be buried in silence, and where “becoming animal” can happen in an instant, giving up the “humanness” that has barely been learned.  Army: A world of numbers, a world where people with names exist without names, a world where people need to stand in line, a world where people must learn to make the same movements at the same time, a world where people learn to march, wear the same clothes, eat the same food, and sleep at the same time, but can’t ask why. Men are suddenly thrown into that world when they come of age and have their hair cropped short, and at the time when they start smelling like grown men. This is the moment when they are forced to change from civilians to soldiers.   

When all left feet are raised at the same time

   The first thing soldiers learn is to stand in line. To take the first step with their left feet at the same time. Walking without reason or erasing any sense of the word while walking is called marching. When they start marching confusedly, wearing the same white gloves and holding a long thing called a gun in their hands, all hands, helmets, and guns stay silent. When the marchers lift their left feet at the same time, trees filled with birds’ nests also sway to the left. People in military uniforms started walking towards an unfamiliar direction of life. A weird scene where they all have the same errorless posture pointing towards a strange place. That is the direction of the military uniform.   

Military shoes or mouths

   Gathered military shoes appear to be in the same shape, but are actually in different shapes. Each boot carries its owner’s handwritten name. Military shoes are stretched depending on the owners’ feet. They return to their original shape again when the feet have entered and the laces have been tightened. People can recognize their shoes by looking at their names. Can names be trusted? Can handwriting be trusted? Hours widen like mouths when the soldiers continue to march in their military boots. Instead of their mouths telling tales, words are gradually lost, and more events are recorded on their military shoes. 

   Regardless of a strong-weak strike on the vital points

   The setting is under the slogan “beaters are murderers.” The vitals are drawn in a picture, showing that assaults are committed. A man has a military serial number chain around his neck ― a thin and light chain needed to provide identity if his body should become unrecognizable. The well-built body, which was trained and developed without notion of purpose, is more lethargic than the chain. Next to him are the words “Fatal regardless of a strong-weak strike on the vital points,” but the hands on the waist ignore this taboo when the military serial number chain is worn around a neck.

Won’t get up

   A person lying in the same pose as the sleeping man next to him, equipped with military uniform and boots, lying on his back with arms crossed. Another man lying in the same pose is next to this person. They are stiff. If they are compared to trees, they are poplars that continue spreading and sprawling, and in regards to their will, it is a struggle to succeed in moving and walking someday, which may also look like resistance to the idea that they will ever get up. Let’s assume that the men fell asleep before being called out. However, those men in a geometric composition are getting out of it.

 Photos of “Merely-Exists”

   Han-Koo Lee’s military photos (planned to be exhibited at Gallery Ryugaheon under the title 『Military Use』 in autumn) are the first records of the reality Lee experienced. They were taken in the army after he enlisted at 22. Just as he wished, stating “If I have to serve in the army anyway, I want to go to the forefront and take pictures,” Lee was placed on the front line and was able to get his hands on a camera when he became a corporal. As a young man who loved taking pictures so much and always kept a camera within arm’s reach, he got into the habit of taking photos with his eyes, and has since developed the habit of winking at scenes when he encountered events and places that he wished to photograph. 

   Han-Koo Lee broke the seal on these photos, taken between November 1989 and March 1992, after more than 20 years had passed. He doesn’t rush to show his records, as he’s been working as a photographer for quite a long time. How a 20-year-old photographs being 20 years old, how a soldier takes photos of soldiers, these are not done as a stranger nor simply as an observer, and yet there is no acute awareness that he is part of them. No remarkable episodes or special moments were captured in these photos, but that is Lee’s way of taking photos. 

   What Lee, who enlisted with the mindset of a war correspondent, may have found out in the place that he was thrown into is that it is no more than his life. If not, the photos taken by him could not be so serene. Besides, they were taken with the hands of a hot-blooded youth. 

Nothing was hidden in the pictures taken by Lee in his 20s, nor omitted. The frame is not stubborn and does not put focus on the space. Pictures of “Merely-Exists” are pictures that don’t consider control or balance. They are pictures that rule out emotion, form, and meaning. Rather, they don’t rule these out but make it a priority to record reality first. When recording reality, pictures don’t allow fabrication.   

 Again, “Manufactured date: July, 1986. Military Use”

There is no revelation, accusation, or evidence in the picture of the ankles taken while sitting on a blanket, and wrapping each ankle with a rubber band. It merely shows that reality exists.

   Han-Koo Lee’s 『Military Use』 photos show things that can’t be revealed in a non-revealing way. Rather, in recording reality and things that can’t be revealed in a non-revealing way, the ethics of Lee’s photos are represented. 


Writer Won Lee. Poet. Lee made his debut in World Literature in 1992. He has published several collections of poetry including <The lightest motorbike in the world>. He has also won awards in Contemporary Poetics and Contemporary Poems.

About the Artist:

Photographer Lee Han-koo is best described by an interesting phrase, “vertically and horizontally.” He has traveled over a thousand villages in Korea since he was a member of <The Truth>, a documentary photographer’s group, and <Men and Mountain>, a monthly photo magazine.  He has also been to almost every corner of mountains on Earth from Baekdudaegan (Baekdu Great Mountain Chain), Honamjeongmaek (Honam Great Mountain Chain) and Nangnamjeongmaek (Nangnam Great Mountain Chain) to far away Kan Tengri of Mt. Tiansan, and the Southwest Wall of Mt. Everest. While he has vertically climbed up and horizontally walked around the Korean Peninsular and beyond, he has built his own photo world.

106 Jahamunro, Jongnogu, Seoul, Korea. Mainly Photograph’s Gallery Ryugaheon 

Telphone +82) 2 720 2010  Mobile Phone +82) 10 5229 2190


Personal history

2009- present President of RyuGaHeon Mainly Photograph’s Gallery

2002-2006 Photo in-charge of <Forest Camp>, a publishing project group

2002-2005 photo editor of <E-Mountain>, a monthly photo magazine

1997- present  Korea Mountain Photographers’ Association

1993-1998 member of  <The Truth>, a documentary photo organization

1993-1997 team leader of <Men and Mountain>, a monthly photo magazine,

1993 graduated from Photography school at Singu college

1968 Born in Seoul


2016 <seven rooms> Seoul Museum of Art Opening Anniversary of Innovation Park a first-time exhibition

2016 <A lover doesn’t grow old>Personal exhibition, Seo Hak Dong photo gallery, Jeonju, Korea

2015 <The ultimate dance _ The record of last professional entertainers and craftsmen>

solo exhibition, Space 22, Seoul,Korea 2015 <Seoul Luna poto Festival>Seoul

2015 <The flowers that bloom on the shade are strong>SeoHakDong Gallery, Jeonju, Korea

2015 <Lee Hankoo Cheonggyecheon Prolog> Bresson Gallery, Seoul, korea

2015 <Jeonju International Photo Festival> Jeonju, Korea

2015 <Houston Photo Fest international Discovery V> Houston, U.S.A 

2014 <Military, Unrecordable memories>Space1839, Suncheun, korea

2012 <Military use _ 軍用> RyuGaHeon Mainly Photograph’s Gallery, Seoul, Korea

2011 <Onbit documentary> Jinsunbook gallery, Seoul, Korea 

2011 <Microlandscape Ⅱ> Canon gallery, Seoul, Korea

2010 <Microlandscape>, a solo exhibition at RyuGaHeon Mainly Photograph’s Gallery, Seoul, Korea

2004 <Documentary: Go out in 18 years >, a group exhibition at Yechong Gallery, Seoul, Korea

2002 <Korea-Japan Mountain Photo Exhibition>

       In commemoration of Korea-Japan Culture Exchange Year, 

       at Japanese Culture Center of the Japanese Embassy in Korea

2000 <Korea Mountain Photographs> at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Seoul, Korea

1999 <Korea Mountain Photographs> at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Seoul, Korea

1993 <Photographer’s Group-The Truth-Exhnibition> at Fuji Photo Gallery, Seoul, Korea

1989 <Along the Soemjin River> at Publication Culture Center, Seoul, Korea

1988 <Cheongsando> at Publication Culture Center, Seoul, Korea


Press >  _   한겨레신문 2010.7 

한국의 사진가들 시리즈 _이한구 


발길이 닿지 않은 산맥이 없어라

알베르 카뮈가 알제리에서 유년을 보내지 않았다면 <이방인>이 세상에 나올 수 있었을까! 주인공 뫼르소는 해변의 태양이 눈부셔서 살인을 했다고 말한다. 카뮈의 유년을 비춘 지중해의 뜨거운 태양이 소설의 재료가 되었다. 

예술가에게 유년의 기억은 평생 그를 지탱해주는 자양분이다. 사진가 이한구(41)씨도 비슷하다. 그의 작품에 녹아 있는 자연에 대한 향수는 어린 시절 기억에서 시작한다. 그는 두살 때부터 초등학교 입학 때까지 여주에서 할머니와 살았다. 산 너머로 시선을 돌리면 푸른 하늘과 흰 구름이 눈에 들어오고, 그 아래 미루나무가 친구가 되어 손짓했다. 개울가의 졸졸 물 흐르는 소리는 그에게 자장가였다. 하루에 두 번 마을로 들어오는 버스는 뽀얀 먼지를 일으키면서 신작로를 달렸다. 행여 서울에 사는 아버지가 그 버스에서 내릴까 싶어 ‘어린 한구’는 모래바람 속을 달렸다. 그가 “<TV문학관>과 잡지 <뿌리깊은 나무>, <샘이 깊은 물>을 좋아하고 우리 전통문화나 시골 풍경”에 자석처럼 이끌렸던 이유가 여기에 있다. 


대학땐 텐트와 카메라 들고 전국일주 

고등학교 때부터 그의 책장에는 사진가 세바스치앙 사우가두(브라질)와 최민식의 사진집이 꽂혀 있었다. 경영학과에서 사진학과로 진로를 바꾼 이유가 책장 속에 숨어 있다. 그는 “사진학과를 다니면서도 수업은 빼먹고 청산도, 구례, 하동, 섬진강 일대를 텐트와 카메라 하나 달랑” 메고 사진을 찍으러 다녔다. “불량학생”이었지만 그의 사진작업 노트에는 우리 산천초목과 주름진 농부들의 손마디가 소박하게 자리잡았다. 

그의 시선은 잡지 <사람과 산>에 입사하면서 더 확장되었다. 백두대간, 호남정맥, 낙동정맥, 낙남정맥(낙동강의 남쪽), 한북정맥(한강의 북쪽) 등, 그의 발길이 닿지 않는 산맥이 없었다. 7년간 사진기자 생활을 하면서 다닌 마을이 2000곳이 넘는다. 

마을로 향하는 그의 차에는 늘 소주 됫병과 “정육점에서 끊은 괴기 덩어리”가 있었다. 1990년대 초반 인터넷도 발달하지 않았던 그 시절 ‘114’에 전화를 걸어 이장님 전화번호를 알아내고 그곳을 찾아갔다. 처음 하는 일이 소주와 ‘괴기’를 푸는 일이었다. 밤새 마을 사람들과 정담을 나눈 뒤에 “형님, 동생”이 되어서야 카메라를 들었다. 

96년도부터는 다큐멘터리 사진그룹 ‘사진집단 사실’의 구성원으로 활동했다. 김문호, 노익상, 이석필 등 사회문제에 대해 관심 있는 사진가들이 그와 함께했다. ‘사진집단 사실’을 통해 발표한 사진은 80년대 말부터 찍은 청계천이었다. 군 생활을 하면서도 그만의 독특한 시각은 카메라에 드러났다. 그가 찍은 군대 사진은 대담하고 간결하다. 강한 흑백의 선들은 보는이의 심장을 세게 두드린다. 

최근 그는 다시 산을 찾고 있다. 우리네 산야를 벗어나 더 큰 자연을 품에 안았다. 오랫동안 산을 찍은 그만의 노하우를 살려 톈산산맥의 한텡그리(Khan-Tengri, 중국 이름 한텅거리·7010m)나 에베레스트 남서벽 등을 등반하고 사진을 찍었다. 거대한 눈으로 덮인 산은 경외감 자체다. “잡지에서 일할 때 우리 산만 다녔죠. 해외 등반을 하고 싶은 소망이 늘 제게 있었어요.” 그는 자신을 “사진가이기도 하지만 등반인이기도 합니다. 제가 산악인들에게 짐이 되면 안 되죠”라고 말한다. 

산을 찍는 사진가는 특별한 산악인이다. 출발부터 예사롭지 않다. 가장 늦게 출발해서 산을 오르기 시작하는 산악인들의 모습을 카메라에 담아야 하고, 틈틈이 거대한 산의 외경스러움도 찍어야 한다. 산악인들보다 먼저 산꼭대기에 올라 셔터를 누를 준비도 해야 한다. 옆 봉우리에 올라가서 가파른 벽을 오르는 그들을 생생하게 담기도 한다. 

그의 장비는 산악인들 것보다 더 무겁다. 등반 장비에는 무거운 카메라가 포함된다. 아무리 무거워도 셰르파(원정을 돕는 짐꾼)에게 짐을 맡기지 않는다. 검게 그을린 그의 얼굴에서 산사람의 흔적이 보인다. 


서촌에 사진 갤러리 ‘류가헌’ 만들어 

한텡그리는 2004년, 2006년 두 번이나 도전했다. “기상 악화로 고지를 100m 남겨두고 내려오기도 했어요.” 그는 그곳에서 동료를 잃었다. 2007년에는 박영석 원정대와 함께 에베레스트 남서벽을 등반했다. 이때 그는 이곳에서 동료 산악인 오희준, 이현조 씨를 잃었다. 산을 숙명처럼 받아들인 산사람의 삶이 그의 사진 속에 남아 있다. 이듬해 박영석 원정대와 그곳을 또 올랐다. 그의 산사진은 우람하고 애잔하다. 산과 그곳을 찾던 이들은 닮았다. 

순한 짐승의 눈빛을 뿜어내는 그는 최근 광화문 서촌(경복궁 서쪽 한옥밀집지역)에 자리를 잡았다. 서촌을 설명하는 기사에 자주 등장했던 사진 위주 갤러리 ‘류가헌’이 그가 만든 공간이다. 버려졌던 우리 한옥을 꼼꼼하게 다듬고 어루만져 아담한 자연이 숨쉬는 공간으로 만들었다. “사진을 전시하려고 마음을 먹었는데 돈이 많이 들더라고요. 전시 공간을 차라리 내가 만들어 버리자라는 생각이 들었어요.” 그동안 ‘시간의 뒤편’(안홍범 사진전), ‘강강강강, 사진가들 강으로 가다’(다큐멘터리 사진가들이 4대강을 다룬 사진전), ‘이상엽의 이상한 숲 DMZ’ 등을 전시했다. 그는 앞으로 혜초가 쓴 것으로 알려진 여행기, <왕오천축국전>을 따라 사진을 찍을 예정이다. 

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