Photo Chair Eric Weeks blogs his visit to Kyungil University, South Korea

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Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

For two weeks in May, Eric Weeks, Chair of PCA&D’s Fine Art and Photography Departments, visited South Korea, to further the relationship between PCA&D and  Kyungil University (KIU) in Daegu, South Korea, and reconnect with KUI Professor Jongsung Paul Choe, a student of Eric’s at the School of Visual Arts, in New York in 1999.


On this trip, Eric was a guest lecturer at KIU and assisted with portfolio reviews. He then attended the Jeunju Photo Festival to meet other photographers and educators.

His trip also included a visit to Busan, Korea’s second largest city and Seoul, the capital. In addition to sending photos and video about his trip, Eric offered the following reflections:


Are you peaceful? 

There are many more similarities than differences between KIU and PCAD. I reviewed 15 photography students’ portfolios, and all of them made personal, emotionally communicative work, even if many of them aspire to work mainly in the commercial field. I was surprised that there was less emphasis on printing, and I viewed many portfolios on laptops. One student showed both and wanted advice on how to make her prints better, but it was the technical aspects of the capture that needed improvement. This is best understood by making prints as often as possible. Both colleges are dedicated to teaching film-based photography as well, and students at KIU do make many darkroom prints, similar to students at PCA&D.

IMG_0078The two schools vary greatly in size. KIU is a full university, with thousands of students attending. The photography department is large, 450 students, and is considered one of the top photo programs in the country. The other art disciplines are very small in size, and do not share the same reputation.IMG_0182

One last difference, and it’s a big one, is that Korean students demonstrate their respect for their professors by bowing rapidly while stating “Annyong Haseyo” whenever they pass each other in the hallways. Annyong Haseyo is the standard greeting in Korea that translates to “Are you peaceful?” I can just imagine students bowing to their professors in the halls of PCA&D!


IMG_0176The world is a smaller place

The world is a smaller place than it was once, because of the Internet, other new modes of communication and global trade. It is paramount that artists and art students learn that there are many ways of thinking and many ways of making. By exchanging images and ideas with other cultures, we can learn about practices and opinions outside our own. This makes us better informed artists who can communicate with many different kinds of people.


IMG_4492New approaches, warm people

I have met artists and curators from a number of different countries on this trip. It has been very interesting for me to see how others approach art making, and what they see as the function of art in society. I look forward to sharing these opinions with students at PCA&D. I also look forward to sharing my encounters with many warm, kind and smart people, and how I will cherish my memories while working towards more collaborations and contacts with my new friends and colleagues.


IMG_0402The culture will influence

I love travel because it offers new and often surprising experiences that inform my life and my art. The photographs I made on my trip function as documents, and are not part of my actual art practice, but I will bring my visual experiences of Korea into my work when I get home. The people, art, architecture and landscape, as well as the color use and design sense here is different than the U.S., and I have no doubt that these will filter into my own work, however subtly.


Oyster stew in Daegu; bibimbap in Jeonju

bibimapKorean food, and the sharing of meals with others, is probably the most enjoyable and informative aspect of my trip here. The food, even the simplest meal, is always presented thoughtfully, with beauty and balance in mind. Color and composition are considered, however subconsciously. The ingredients, from seafood to greens, are extremely fresh. Much thought is also given to the health benefits of the various ingredients. Many condiments are shared among a group eating together, and people pour beverages for each other (but by tradition, not for themselves), making a meal a truly shared activity. I had many fabulous meals and it would be difficult to point out my favorite, but I think it is a toss up between the oyster stew in Daegu, and the bibimbap in Jeonju. Bibimbap, a meal served in a bowl with a mixture of rice, vegetables and greens, chili paste, egg and sometimes another protein originated in Jeonju. It is by far the best I have ever eaten. Yum! I will definitely miss the food here.


It makes more sense now.

IMG_0448The purpose of art is considered in various ways in Korea. Many people have similar views to our western ideas about beauty and complexity of concept, while others look for more readily understood work. More radical in difference is how the function of art is viewed in China. During an artist talk at the Jeonju Photo Festival, a Chinese artist and educator adamantly stated that art needs to be immediately understood, and must always benefit society. Others later assured me that this is a very common ideology in China. I always teach that the best art has complex and nuanced concepts that subtly unfold and communicate over time. I was very surprised by this difference, but when thinking about the cultural differences between China and the U.S., it makes more sense to me now.

Eric Weeks int he airport in Seoul, 24+ hours after leaving Newark

On this trip I fully circumnavigated the earth. Both flight itineraries traveled east, I assume because of the trade winds. My flight to Korea flew north over Greenland, then east over Europe, stopping in Hong Kong and then onto Seoul. My return trip is taking me to Hong Kong again, and then north then east over Alaska and Canada. The time difference is thirteen hours ahead in Korea, and is literally half way around the world. I feel like a time traveler!  : )


Once a month, students at Kyungil University (KUI) in Daegu, South Korea, and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are asked an open-ended question that students at both institutions will then answer through photographs. Read more at: http://engage.pcad.edu/blog/photographic-cultural-exchange