Björn Steinz began his photographic career at a local newspaper close to Frankfurt. Having worked as a volunteer in refugee camps during the war in the former Yugoslavia and traveled in Latin America, he decided to study photography, earning a Bachelor and Master of Arts Degrees at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU). After working as a freelance photographer and part time teacher in Czech Republic and Germany, he spent two years as an Assistant Professor at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea – teaching photography while working on a book about the country. Now based in the Czech Republic, his work has been published in Du, Die Zeit, the Financial Times, Geo Special, The Independent, Der Spiegel, Newsweek and other publications. Björn is a member of Panos Pictures in London.
TribalTruth is pleased to present Bjorn Steinz’s photographs from his project entitled A Beautiful Strange Dream showing everyday life in South Korea.
In 2009, Bjorn worked as an Assistant Professor of Photography at Keimyung University in Daegu about 250 km away from the South Korean capital, Seoul. “As I hadn’t lived in an Asian country before I didn’t know what to expect of my new life in South Korea – so I thought it might be a big challenge to give it a try. I stayed for two years and besides my work at the University I tried to see as much as possible of South Korea. In my free time I started working on a book about the country. I bought an old Huyndai Sonata car and almost every weekend and teaching break I traveled with my wife alone through the country to see and to photograph different aspects of our new and temporary home country. For me, South Korea became a place of contrasts and extremes. High-tech and traditional way of life, Buddhism and Confucianism contrasting with a huge and growing number of Christians. And not to forget North Korea, the DMZ and the dream of unification of North and South. My images are a selection out of a book project called A Beautiful Strange Dream, as this is how my time in South Korea appeared to me. Beautiful- because of the kindness and hospitality I received from the people I photographed and the beauty of the countryside. Strange – because of a very different social structure, hierarchies and different ways of thinking, which made my being in Korea often complicated. Dream -because I was allowed to experience, see and photograph all of this. I realized for the first time in my life that the so called ‘culture shock’ really exists when crossing the borders from Europe to Asia and I understood after a while not to judge, but to see it as a fact and a chance to learn about a different attitude towards life. I often felt alienated – like living in a big ‘bubble’ without knowing what was actually happening around me – and of course I was unable to speak even basic Korean. That was clearly a mistake on my part. I worked mostly on the streets all over South Korea and tried to focus on situations and moments which showed this different world from my (European) point of view. To help with communication I always had a letter (written in Hangul [Korean]) with me – to explain to people why I am photographing them and to ask for their permission. I often received help from my students to understand the language and culture, and they were a very important part of my time being in Korea.” Bjorn Steinz
Tags: A Beautiful Strange Dream, alienation, Asian culture, Bjorn Steinz, Buddhism, citylife, Confucianism, countryside, culture, culture shock, Czech Republic, DMZ, documentary photography, European, foreigner, heirarchies, high tech, Keimyung University, Panos Pictures, Prague, social structures, South Korea, traditional way of life, unification