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Text by

Haily Grenet


An image is a significant surface on which diverse shapes, lines and colors appear. Together they have a relationship, which has nothing to do with any kind of pragmatism or logic, but instead deals with a magical dimension.

However, what happens when all those visible signs disappear? In Seung-Hwan Oh’s, photographic works, the visible disappears and what we usually consider an image is eaten and attacked by a microbe. This process happens, not during the development, but after it, on the film itself.

In world saturated with idealized images by images that are easily produced and dispersed. Seung-Hwan Oh brutalizes and mistreats his images in order to make them sick, revealing not just the physicality of the photograph itself but the life of the artwork.


For Impermanence, Seung-Hwan Oh exposes his practice to Science. Like a microbiologist, he cultivates fungus that he applies to his film. Through this process, the microorganisms slowly devour the film. The artist proposes a depletion of an image.  The intended result is what appears through disappearance.


Oh has worked on this project for ten years, where he has improved and increasingly controlled the effects of the microbes on the films. The poetry of his process and images remains in this uncertainty. Even if he doesn’t control the action of the fungus, he is still fully conscious of its chaos. They are cultivated with such a unique precision that he is able to achieve certain vulnerability in his portraits.


A reference to Dorian’s Grey portrait can be made when we discover this work. Moreover, as in Wilde’s novel, those portraits capture a time that no longer exists, when the work is revealed. The model’s face has become unrecognizable.

This incarnation of male beauty and the dread of passing time is made sensible. However in the novel, the seem build a new relationship between existence and temporality, where the key to defy time would be physical perfection. Actually, the trace, left by the ephebe will be this vain eternity quest and an attempt to withstand time. Whereas Seung-Hwan Oh’s pictures come not under this narcissistic idea, but more from a fear of the human being’s disappearance.


Like the European vanitas from the XVII and XVIII centuries, he proposes a reflection on the human being’s ephemeral and entropic nature. All objects represented on the paintings, were complex symbols for impermanence, futility and fugacity of life.

Paintings from this style were meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death.

For this exhibition, portraits are echo of death we cannot avoid, where faces fade in a loose color print.


Susan Sontag, talks about the image’s disappearance in On Photography. Success of photography has to be understood through this perspective. When the world was facing Modernity, photography became a way to capture a copy of it, on film. Nevertheless, this moment no longer exists as soon as the picture is taken. This presence by absence, and this “it has been” effect, held on a film, deals with souvenir and past. The photography, also, covers up by a veil transforming its subject into a ghost, in “spectrum” to quote Roland Barthes. The image taken by a camera, as a representation for something, cannot be a global expression of what we wanted to shoot. Therefore, the lens creates a distance and a sacralization process that causes us to just only see a fragment and a residue of reality.


Seung-Hwan Oh’s work is at the heart of these questions. With Impermanence, the rotten film allows him to emancipate the image from its magical, religious and sacred aspects. This reminds us of the universal precarious human condition, and its surroundings.

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