Retired Korean spreads joy with funeral photographs

Retiree takes portraits of lonely old people for their funerals, documenting the final phase of their lives.

Korea elderly photos - executive turned photographer story
More than 900 people have benefited from Kim’s work so far [Kim Kwang-ahn]

Kim Kwang-ahn, a former construction company executive, has turned his life-long hobby of photography into a meaningful job in his post-retirement life.

Last year, the 78 year old started to take portraits of elderly people to be used for their funeral, perhaps documenting the final chapter in their lives, for free, in a park in downtown Seoul.

When we visited Kim, the park was, as always, crowded with lots of elderly people who came to meet their friends and spend time during the day.

In front of the park’s maintenance office, he and his wife, Park Young-Ja, 74, set up a makeshift desk under a blue parasol.

His wife was giving a framed portrait to Park Do-soon, 76, who visited last week to have his portrait taken. Park looked very happy as he appears younger in the picture, thanks in part to Kim’s photoshop work.

Once “customers” come, his wife helps them to write down their basic information and takes them to a white wall in a corner of the building, where Kim takes pictures.

“I think that taking a portrait allows your memories to be remembered by others,” Kim says [Al Jazeera]

He and his wife come twice a week and take pictures for 20 people each time. He spends more time photoshopping the pictures, deleting wrinkles and spots, which takes around 20 minutes for each picture.

When asked why he decided to do this for the community, Kim told Al Jazeera: “I think that taking a portrait allows your memories to be remembered by others. Many elderly coming here are economically vulnerable and socially marginalised with no one to look after them. This could help them to be remembered. Taking a portrait in a studio would cost $50 to $100, which is burdensome for them.”Fifty percent poverty rate

In fact, the elderly in South Korea, overall, fare poorly, compared to their peers in other coutries. The country’s poverty rate among the elderly stands at a dismal 49.6 percent, the highest among OECD member countries.The Global AgeWatch Index, which gauges the quality of life for older people, ranks South Korea at 60 out of 96 countries surveyed.

While it is true that many of the older generation failed to make financial and psychological preparations for their later years, it was hard to blame them for a lack of preparation.

Rather, they were a major driving for South Korea’s rapid, glaring industrialisation in the 1960s through 1980s, toiling long hours.

Kim says: “In the past, parents spared no penny for their children, because in turn, children, once grown-up, were expected to provide support for their old parents. But, the society has changed and now, relying on children in your later years has become unimaginable.”

So far, just over 900 people have benefited from Kim’s kind work, and he will soon reach his initial target of 1,000.

He attributes this ‘success’ to the ironic location of this park, likening it to a delta in the mouth of a river, where sands swept away from the upper stream get accumulated.”I mean this park is a place where old people pushed away from their home and the society gather,” he says.

When asked about his next target after 1,000, he replied, “I have not thought about my next target in detail. But, I’ll continue as long as my health and the situation allow me to.”

Source: Al Jazeera