Sometimes when traveling, you come across a place that forces you to ponder on your own existence, on the legacy you leave behind and what you would do if given a limited time on earth by the doctors.
That place for me was Kim Young Gap Photo Gallery in Jeju Island, South Korea.
We didn’t plan on visiting there because I’m passionate about photography too, we simply knew that it was along our hiking path while walking Jeju Olle Trail #3A. This gallery is located inside an old school, which we figured would be an interesting transformation to see in itself. Unlike most modern buildings on Jeju Island, which hardly preserve any space for a garden or outdoor areas, this gallery has a very generous outdoor space with a peaceful atmosphere for rest and meditation. You will also find small and medium figurines and art pieces scattered throughout.
There is also a quaint walking path behind the gallery, which also hosts a space for a small self-serf coffee shop!
Who was Kim Young Gap?
Born in 1957 in Buyeo, South Chungcheon Province, photographer Kim Young Gap did not step foot in his hometown for 20 years. While residing in Seoul, he started regularly traveling to Jeju Island in 1982, and, captivating by the island he was photographing, he relocated there in 1985. From the sea to the mountains, from Mount Hallasan to Marado Island, there are few places on Jeju Island where he has not been. And from the elderly to the haenyeo, the volcanic cones to the sea, the fields, clouds, and reeds, there are few things in Jeju that he has not photographed. Kim spent his money on film rather than food, and when hungry, he would appease his appetite with carrots or sweet potatoes found in the fields. His photographic project of capturing the “loneliness and tranquility” of the island can almost be likened to performance for all the passion and soul he put into it. To find a gallery that could display his photos, which had begun growing mold in storage, Kim found an abandoned elementary school (Samdal School). But just as he began the project of fortifying the foundation, the hand he needed to press the shutter button when taking photographs started to shake, and he started feeling an inexplicable pain in his lower back. It eventually reached the point where he was not even able to properly hold a camera, walk, or eat, and Kim Young Gap was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) at a university hospital in Seoul. The doctors gave him no more than three years to live. For a week he lay in bed, avoiding food and drink. Then he got up. Careful to avoid putting strain on his atrophying muscles, he cautiously devoted himself to the construction of his photo gallery. And thus, the Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak was born, opening in the summer of 2002.
After struggling with his illness for six years, Kim Young Gap passed away on May 29, 2005, in the gallery he’d built with his own hands. His bones were scattered on the grounds of the Dumoak Gallery, and now Kim Young Gap is “forever with the island,” the paradise he so loved – Jeju Island.
In the two exhibition halls within the gallery, The Dumoak Hall and the Hanaloreum Hall, visitors can view a Jeju Island of the past in the photographs of the volcanic cones, the mountains, Marado Island, haenyeo, and more, and catch a glimpse of Jeju not easily accessible to most. The Heirloom Hall situated in the photographer’s former office (pictured above) houses the books that he read and the cameras that stayed with him his entire life. In the Video Room, visitors can look at videos and photographs of Kim from both the height of his activity during his youth and through his later battle with ALS.
“Throughout the Gallery Dumoak, the gallery that Kim Young Gap cultivated as his life slipped away and his terminal illness prevented him from taking photographs, there are hints of the heartbroken artist who lived intensely, thinking only of photography for all of his days.”
At one point in our lives, we come across a place that reminds us so loudly that life is finite. It is a huge gift and a privilege to even be born. It is another treasured opportunity – to be able to travel and sightsee places that interest us outside of our daily jobs and responsibilities. If you’re able to find your calling or passion – you can consider yourself fortunate! I also think that while Kim Young Gap’s untimely death is very very saddening, there is a certain sense of peace in knowing the estimate of your death. I think I rather know because having THE TIMER would definitely light a fire and motivate you to do the things that you procrastinated on. Or maybe it helps to re-evaluate the important tasks because once again TIME IS SO LIMITED.
What legacy do you want to leave? Is it a gallery, displaying your art / writing / video / paintings / books / sewing / photographs / pottery / clothing / Instagram Feed / your globe collection / hand made jewelry ?
Think about it…
Then do something today that will help your loved ones to execute your wishes the right way.
137 Samdal - ro, Seongsan - eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do tel: +82 - 64-784 -9907 Open 9:30am - 6pm (Closed Wednesdays) Admission: 4,500krw
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