It’s a plot for a Hollywood movie. You remember the recent ferry accident in South Korea. Almost 300 people died, many of them schoolchildren. But you didn’t know that a pastor-turned-photographer is the chief suspect in the Sewol tragedy. His name is Yoo Byung-eun — and he’s hard to pin down. Posters flashed across television screens and pasted in village buses depict Yoo, a photographer with a cult following, in various disguises.
The reward for tip-offs has recently been increased to 500 million won, that’s nearly half a million dollars. He is wanted on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement and negligence in connection with the nation’s deadliest maritime disaster in decades. The manhunt is now going on for weeks, but the man better known in the photography art world as Ahae remains elusive.
Yoo has long kept a low profile. He is known in South Korea as the “billionaire with no face” — while honing a dozen fuzzy identities. Yoo describes himself as “inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, environmental activist, martial artist, painter, sculptor, poet and photographer”.
In the last of his many guises he is well known, in the photography art world that is. His photography is unique. Yoo a.k.a. Ahae claims to have spent the past four years taking 2.7 million photographs of nature from one window.
Ahae, the reclusive photographer’s artist name, is etched in stone at the Louvre in Paris as one of its patrons. He has exhibited his prints (at his own expense) there and at the Palace of Versailles. Rumors are swirling that the Sewol’s remodelling, thought to have weakened the overloaded ferry, was for a display of Mr Yoo’s photography.
Oh, and once jailed for fraud, Yoo, the “photographer with no face,” is also the founder of a church which owns the website www.god.com. What a domain.
The art world celebrates Ahae who had to defend himself against accusations that the billionaire artist bribed a historical and renowned institution such as the Louvre. Here’s Henry Loyrette, the museum’s former director:
Now what’s Ahae’s photography all about? Nature. Landscape. Silence.
Yoo calls this his own mission. He wants to reveal his work to people today who — caught up in the frenzy of modern-day life — do not have the time to stop and discover the world from one and the same window.
Remember, all you need is a window. And time. And maybe a few millions.