When the virus landed in Seoul, there was still the endless joy of shared warmth. The city had the sense of a huge honeycomb.
It’s the challenge of beautiful things to encounter their contradictions. I was working with artist Juyujin on an exhibition called The Dream of a Common Language. People visited the studio, sat with the sun by a window, and closed their eyes. They listened to music. The music came from the last person who visited the studio, “from the heart,” an anonymous gift from another life.
These people would meet at the exhibition, after having imagined each other. I hoped the exhibition would be as Hans Ulrich Obrist imagines, a junction, where people could meet with a realized unity, and a fresh sense of what can be shared and given.
The gallery closed the day after alarms began to sound in the street. The curator spoke with me. She played Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," sanitizer sitting between us. She helped me come to understand that the portraits—meant to hold the dream of the experience—were somehow, now, difficult and dangerous. For the first time I understood death was more visible than the human face.
Photography is a kind of spiritual mobility. Images are only received as they are appreciated and imagined. They only evolve as you touch them.
The virus distanced all faces beyond clouds of masks. And all the eyes changed.
People scanned, making appraisals of danger and proximity. It's a kind of seeing I understood from working with police.
What does danger look like?
This moment’s danger, and maybe always, is the vulnerability of others. His white hair, his ears bare without a mask, have the power to make me afraid.
I want to share this photograph because my sense of danger shows me that the visual symbols have changed. Many have become medical facts.
I want to preserve the wonder of possibility that photography holds. I want to say, to remind myself in this time of isolation, that the camera remains a bridge to anyone light moves across.
The photograph began as an anonymous image of a stranger’s head, taken in a park, simply because of beautiful light and the sound of the birds. I carried a print in my bag for some weeks, until I was lucky enough to see him again.
His name is 수, Young-soo. I know where he sits in the park, his favorite moment in music (https://youtu.be/oMBH-Ns2HeE?t=380 ), how he disappears from long conversations to count blades of grass.
I met Covid in Tokyo. I couldn’t say how. I’ve had pneumonia before, and broken ribs, and it was a sort of combination.
I’m lucky my case wasn’t worse. When your breath is taken from you, it can feel like the world’s heart has stopped.
I had been close to one person in Tokyo, my best friend, who was and stayed asymptomatic, which I’m grateful for. I want to share three miraculous experiences from the fourteen days I passed through.
It’s the suddenness. I hope everything that should be said, is said now.
I found two friends I never met in this time. They were an anonymous couple on the other side of the wall. Thank you to all cities, all apartment buildings where you are so close to life, even at home. It wasn’t seeing them, it was knowing they were there.
The wall was so thin that at night, I could hear their dreaming. Apart from all words, all ideas, all images, above all the sound of life is enough. A thin, cool wall is all that divides us.
I’m home now, in New York. I just wish the best for everyone. Everything outside the hospital feels unreal, and health workers—and everyone who cares for others through fear—should be celebrated for all time.
I love this city and always do. It’s strange, at this time when all the familiar things have disappeared, I am certain that it’s home. I never felt that way in the boom years. I can’t say why. All ordinaries will be miraculous, as they always were.