Ten classrooms at Danwon High School were transformed into memorial sites during the Sewol Ferry Tragedy on April 16, 2014, when the lives of 250 students and 12 teachers (nearly its entire second year class) were lost off the coast of Donggeochado, South Korea. Overnight these classrooms were covered in their own sea of photographs and personal letters addressed to the departed. From this origin of loss, these classrooms emerged as sacred spaces, repositories of memory.
Amidst debate of what should be done to preserve the memorials, a controversial attempt to forcibly clear out and remodel the classrooms was made almost immediately after the 2nd year anniversary of the tragedy. For several days family members occupied the school grounds until an extension was granted to access the classrooms for a few more weekends.
In August of 2016, the school resumed renovations and removal of all memorial items.
Powerless against the forces that be, these families say they're losing their children and loved ones for a second time.
In 2010, I entered public school teaching through the Gyeonggi English Program in Korea. GEPIK serves the Ansan area, placing educators in Danwon High School. Because of this connection, it was easy for me to imagine the children as middle school students I had once taught.
I felt compelled to help preserve the space. When government and school officials made it clear that this would be impossible, I re-focused my efforts to photograph the significance of the memorial's removal. Dismayed that my initial essay hadn't generated the awareness I had wished, I sought to assist the families further. Approximately a year later, I returned and provided them my photographs to record their thoughts. This renewed document is a collaborative effort, one that shares personal insights from individual family members to create a portrait of the community's voice as a whole.
A defaced memorial blackboard in Danwon High
Im Young-ae writes to her son, Oh Jun-young
Lee Ji-sung presses tight a photo of her daughter, Kim Do-eun, while sitting at her classroom desk in room 2-3
Set to 4:16
Park Ye-na holds her brother Seong-ho's Danwon High School identification card
Lee Yeong-su sits in front of a two-year old note addressed to his brother, Yeong-man
Kim Jeong-hee writes to her daughter, Kim So-jung. Her school jacket hangs on the back of her chair in classroom 2-2
Kwon Mi-hwa writes a letter to her son, Oh Young-seok, in classroom 2-7
Jun Mi-soon remembers her granddaughter, Park Jung-seul, at her desk in classroom 2-10
Park Hea-young recalls her daughter, Choi Yun-min
In classroom 2-3, Choi Sung-yong looks over letters addressed to his daughter, Choi Yun-min
Letters in the Hall
Kim Yeon-sil cleans the classroom of her son, Jeong Cha-woong
Park Yu-shin buries her head into Jeong Yea-jin's memorial journal
Volunteer Han Kyoung-sook recalls her thoughts about Moving Day
Choi Ji-young, mother of student Kwon Soon-bum, collapses outside of Danwon High School
Volunteer Misun Cho recalls Moving Day
Choi Soon-hwa looks down from her son Lee Chang-hyun's boxed up classroom
A View of Danwon