Student competition winner: Told he had six months to live, opened an art exhibit

This piece is one of the 10 winners of our Profile competition 2022. You can find more here . Nathan Ko the author, is 17 years old ...


This piece is one of the 10 winners of our Profile competition 2022. You can find more here. Nathan Kothe author, is 17 years old and goes to The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn.


By Nathan Ko

In 2019, South Korean photographer Kim Gyoo-sik was recognized as artist of the year by korean company KT&G. He modestly describes his popularity before this recognition as a “small group of committed fans”.

During his growing fame, doctors diagnosed him with advanced gastric cancer. After they told him he had six months to live, he claimed his life insurance policy and set about living the rest of his life to the fullest. He opened his art exhibition in 2021 not only to explore abstract images through photography, but also to find meaning during a difficult time.

The following interview has been translated from Korean and edited for clarity.

Credit…Nathan Ko

Tell me about you.

I am a photographer who uses gelatin silver prints, mostly black and white photography. Most contemporary artists no longer use this medium.

The complicated, slow and restricted process of black and white photography is impractical. I was curious about the contemporary changes taking place in the photo production process. So in my latest series, I focused on each stage of production, highlighting the role of black and white photography in contemporary art. My work is considered relatively unconventional, which has allowed me to receive positive attention.

At the height of your career, you were diagnosed with cancer. Your suffering has worsened because of the pandemic. I can only imagine the range of emotions you felt.

When I was given six months to live, I was miserable. I had a lot of fevers during my battle with cancer. At the start of the pandemic, concerns about symptoms of Covid-19, such as fevers, meant that I had missed out on chances to receive treatment that I desperately needed.

I first thought that preparing for my personal exhibition would be more fruitful than continuing with chemotherapy, because the treatment was painful and insufficient. Then a surgeon friend of mine convinced me to have a surgery that many hospitals didn’t approve of at the time. The operation was amazing, and at the end of the seven-hour procedure, all the doctors in the room cheered. Thanks to the operation, I am still here.

Living in the face of death, what keeps you going and what does life mean to you?

People often say, “If I didn’t have much time left to live, what would I do?” But that was my reality. An artist never knows what a comfortable life means. I thought working the last days of my life might not be a comfortable end to life, but it would have a happy and meaningful ending.

In the end, I felt that I had to complete the work I originally planned to reach a state of fulfillment. After my solo exhibition, I basically lived in my bed because of the side effects of the treatment. Yet, at the same time, I’m brainstorming ideas for my next project. Our desires are endless!

Besides, life is too short to be wasted. I spend more time with my wife now, because what I can leave to my loved ones are memories.

What surprises you in your work?

That an object or a world in your head can come true in a photo. This process of real and accurate representation always fascinates me and gives me a feeling of pure excitement.

Any other lessons you can pass on?

During my battle with cancer, I realized that life is over and there are endless ways to die. The meaning of the words infinite and finite are difficult to grasp in everyday life. It is important not to be influenced by what others say. Choose your finite way to live a good life.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Student competition winner: Told he had six months to live, opened an art exhibit
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