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Blow up #23, from the series Blow up

printed 2010


Seung Woo Back


1973 -


Seung Woo Back holds a Masters of Fine Art in Photography from Chung University, Seoul, and in 2005 completed a doctorate in Fine Art and Theory at Middlesex University, London. Since 2000 he has participated in numerous important international group exhibitions including ‘Dreamlands’, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010), ‘Chaotic harmony’ (touring museums in the USA, 2010), ‘Platform’, Seoul (2009), ‘39(2)’, Artsonje Centre, Seoul (2008) and ‘Landscape of Korean contemporary photography’, Seoul Museum of Art (2008). Selected solo exhibitions include ‘Real world’, Foil Gallery (2007) Tokyo and ‘Blow Up’, Gana Beaubourg Gallery, Paris (2006) with another scheduled for Artsonje Centre, Seoul in 2011. Back is the recipient of the Boston University’s Leopold Godowsky Jnr Colour Photography Award (2008) and joint winner of the Il Woo Foundation Photography Award (2009). His work is held in major international collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Michael G Wilson collection, London.

In his series ‘Blow up’ Back presents a selection of ‘snapshots’ of everyday life in Pyongyang, North Korea recording the city - its people, buildings, transport and bits in-between. Captured by Back during several trips to this secretive state-controlled country, his images project aspects of what it is to be both the observer and the observed. The series (comprised of 113 photographs in total) presents an intriguing documentation of a life under surveillance, of fleeting images firmly grasped and rigorously examined.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film ‘Blow up’, in which a photographer discovers, by process of enlargement or ‘blow-ups’, possible evidence of a crime recorded within his otherwise innocuous photo shoot, was the inspiration for the title of Back’s work. Like the photographer in the film, Back enlarged sections of those images he managed to take while facing limitations and strict censorship, hoping to find within these evidence of the ‘reality’ of North Korean society. The five images depicting various people including children at an organ, uniformed guards at different locations, and a doctor at his desk, are a representative selection from the series. Printed with partial white borders the artist indicates that they are fragments of a bigger picture. These are the visual vestiges remaining after scrutiny, first by the censor and then by the artist.

Playing with the idea of photographic truth and perception, ‘Blow up’ attempts to scratch beneath the surface, to push beyond what the artist described as the ‘Truman Show’ set exterior and ‘programmed dolls’ he encountered within North Korea (‘Real World’, 2007 n.p.). In the image of the children Back finds a scrap of truth, the brand name YAMAHA escaping the censor’s eye (all English characters are supposed to be removed).

Back’s North Korea work follows a major series ‘Real world’ 2004 which similarly dealt with the disconnect peculiar to photography between what is real and what is fake.



printed 2010

Media category


Materials used

type C photograph


AP1 from an edition of 5 + 2 AP (original size)


50.0 x 60.2 cm image; 53.0 x 63.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Seung Woo Back

Works in the collection


Referenced in 3 publications


Seung Woo Back, Blow up / Utopia, Seoul, 2009.

Foil Gallery, Real World, 2007.

SAMUSO: Space for contemporary art, 39(2), 2008, 44-45, 110-111. installation views