The controversy was kindled when it was revealed that a photographer, Chang Kuk-hyun, had illegally chopped the trunks and branches off of 25 of the protected 220-year-old pine trees—according to him, simply for better-looking, tidier photographs of the trees. The Geumgang pine trees are indeed no ordinary trees that can be sawed simply for aesthetic reasons. Back in the Joseon Dynasty, they were used only for the construction of the king's palace and his coffin. Chang trimmed the cherished trees merely for the sake of his so-called artistic photographs.
Chang said in an interview, "Some of the trees were also disrupting my camera angles, so they had to go." His brazen confidence as an artist instantly sparked public controversy and outrage. For one thing, it is illegal to cut any tree without approval from the government; for another, the 11 Geumgang pines and 14 other trees in the Sogwangri Forest on the southeast coast of Korea, near Uljin, are protected by the state because of their long history. The trees are under the control of Korea's Forest Service and the forest was declared a natural reserve, not allowing unauthorized personnel to enter.
When the controversy arose, the Court of Daegu sentenced Chang with a fine of five million won for his entering the natural reserve and sawing the branches and logs off of the Geumgang pine trees. Ironically, the fine is only equivalent to the price of one of Chang’s photographs.
Professor Lee Jong-suk (School of Art and Design), the professor of a course on photography at Korea University (KU) and a media artist himself, sees the incident as a bit over the edge. “In search of the best angle, photographers want to rid the obstacles,” he explains. He understands that there are constraints. “But photographers usually find the second-best plan,” he continues; “there always exists a dilemma for photographers, because they have to choose between what is right and what is better for their works.”
Chang however is not the only one destroying nature for his photographs. In fact, there are many professional and amateur photographers who tamper with nature and wildlife for their so-called “art.” Yoon Sun-yeong, the chairperson of the Korean Association of Wild Birds Protection, said in an interview that there are incidents in Korea of stamping on wild flowers accidentally and intentionally and using adhesive to glue birds onto nests and branches to create dramatic effects.
As the chairperson of the association and a photographer himself, Yoon said he can tell whether a photograph of birds has been fabricated. Some photographers, for instance, have captured flycatchers feeding their offspring in their nests. Yoon explained that in these photographs the branches in the nests have been trimmed because the nests of flycatchers are built so as to hide from their predators.
▲ Some photographers used adhesive to glue birds onto branches. Provided by huffingtonpost.kr
“These incidents occur because many photographers are driven by greed for a better photograph,” he explained; “so they lack consideration for nature and its wildlife.” Photography has never been so popular. The number of amateur photographers has been on the rise because people have had greater access to cameras and there are more places on the Web to display such pictures.
Yoon also pointed out that amateur photographers lack an understanding of nature. “Unlike professional photographers from National Geographic or Discovery, some photographers in Korea are uninformed,” he said, “so they blindly take pictures.” Other than that, as there are now more and more photography clubs on the Internet, groups of about twenty amateur photographers visit wildlife habitats together; and thus they come to destroy them as they move around in groups.
There are various ethical concerns and debates surrounding the creation of photography, especially that of nature. The truth is that photographers can easily overrun and destroy nature. The photographer, Chang, has, and so many others around the world have, too. The ethics in photography have likewise been fractured, and the challenge now is to reconcile photographers with photography ethics. After all, no photograph is ever worth causing harm to nature and wildlife.
▲ Some photographers used adhesive to glue birds onto branches.(Provided by huffingtonpost.kr