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Heji Shin 1976 Korea

Few things in our lives are as dramatic as our birth. Our exit into the great void on the other side can come after a number of possible scenarios of varying degrees of drama. But birth, which we do not remember more than as a deeply buried memory in our consciousness, is also very much a struggle between life and death.

Heji Shin is a Korean photographer whose theme here – the moment a child’s head emerges from its mother – has all of the elements of dramatic concretion. Her series of images has a documentary quality that also magically brings us closer to that crucial moment for all humans. That moment just before the baby slips out into the world through an elegant twist of the shoulder and plop – we are out!

There is an intensity she captures in that exact moment that is both horrible and beautiful at the same time. How a new life is loaded with expectations from its environment, the dormant consciousness of its own self, and the physically stressful journey that the foetus makes from its inner universe into ours. An existence with completely different living conditions than those of the first nine months. It is always something of a marvel that the child survives the journey from one world to another.

All of this is in Shin’s pictures. They have a physicality that may seem offensive to some but can be completely fascinating to others. Her images are like meeting yourself in the eternal repetition of the moment of birth, constantly happening around the clock, across the globe. It makes us all participants in a common event we can experience as a feeling, which varies depending on the strength of the trauma that lives inside us all.

Heji Shin is otherwise known for her cinematic portraits of people where she examines desire, lifestyles and violence. They are often heavily staged, and she uses the entire arsenal of digital tools offered by contemporary photographic techniques. She herself sees her images as, if not uninteresting in themselves, secondary. She believes that the photographs become fully exposed only in the viewer’s mind. It is there that they blend with our own stories and memories. In this case, they also probably awaken in us a weak sensation of our own journeys into this world.