South Korea has always been considered by Westerners as a super-technological country, based on ancient traditions to be discovered and, at the same time, imbued with modernity. Skyscrapers, blinding lights, robots, and good food, this is the Korea of dreams, on which every Western tourist bases their imagination. And yet, like all countries in the world, South Korea is full of contradictions ready to emerge at every street corner: in addition to the imposing buildings and skyscrapers, the so-called Goshiwon or Goshitel stand out, tiny houses measuring a few meters squares, crammed into apartments where the poorest class of the population lives.
A talented photographer, Sim Kyu-dong , wanted to bear witness to the frightening living conditions in which the poorest find themselves. His photos leave no room for the imagination.
Sim Kyu-dong spent 5 years in Goshiwon, Seoul , carrying out his own photography project. As he himself explained, Goshiwon and Goshitel are practically used synonymously in South Korea and represent housing that poorer citizens can afford. The rent, very low and without additional costs, also attracts many students who cannot afford better in the capital.
These mini-apartments are on the verge of livable, or even unlivable, and yet… The average price to stay in these very small rooms is between 169 and 186 dollars per month, which is very low compared to current rentals.
In Goshiwon, the rooms are generally composed like this: in a few square meters, there is a bed, a desk, and a small wardrobe for personal belongings. For everything else, there are only common areas. Although basic needs appear to be “met” in these tiny dwellings, most residents quickly develop severe forms of depression. Photographer Sim Kyu-dong also said he suffered from depression during his stay in Goshiwon.
It must be said that many students “lock themselves in” in these accommodations in order to prepare for exams, to the point that these Goshiwon are now identified as temporary accommodations in order to prepare for an exam or an important competition. Unfortunately, many poor workers are forced to live in these slums, often without windows, and Sim Kyu-dong wanted to bear witness to this side of South Korea that is perhaps little known even to its own inhabitants.
How can a person last long in rooms like this?
Sim Kyu-dong’s photographic work is an important testimony and brings us into contact with a world we never thought possible.