Impermanence is about an idea that all the matter including all the life forms collapse in the spatial-temporal dimension we belong to. The idea was inspired by the second law of thermodynamics (entropy theory). I have found a beauty in it.

By chance, I read an article

[on] BBC online [in] 2010 about how fungus threatens to destroy historical film archives. I noticed that mold on badly stored film can eat away and destroy its contents. And then I realized that I [could] deliver the idea of impermanence of matter applying this natural phenomenon into my work.

A variety of expressions and movements of people are captured on film and become an ideal environment to culture microbes. Over the course of months or even years, the microbes use the film as an energy source for self-propagation, leaving traces of its inhabitance. This trace can be a pattern of voids, irregular lines, dispersed dots, or decomposition of film into bright colors. Only a few images can be successfully produced in this manner, and if the microbes continue to propagate, it completely consumes the image.

I thought that damaging the portraits of mankind was more striking and efficient to convey the idea of impermanence of matter in an aesthetic of entangled creation and destruction that inevitably is ephemeral. It is the key that you have to preserve the developed film wet and warm enough that mold can propagate itself. And then you should maintain the condition and check them once a while.

My project Impermanence requires extremely time-consuming process and takes extremely low probability to have a right image. I don’t control anything on [the] elements of the image. It’s just random. To put things in perspective, only one out of 500 frames of medium format color reversal film comes out properly and I only have 15 of them so far since I started the project in 2010.

Words by Seung-Hwan Oh

Seung-Hwan Oh’s Impermanence series reminds us that analog photography is alive and well in the hands of those who insist in it’s living, but that the process of decay is something to be admired.


Seung-Hwan Oh is an artist who lives and works in Seoul, South Korea. He studied film and photography at Hunter College in New York. His work has been featured online in Time, Wired, and Juxtapoze. He has held exhibitions at The Zaha Museum in Seoul, The Espace des Blancs-Manteaux in Paris, France, and Gallery IPKO in New York, New York. You can view more of his work at Find him on Facebook.