Posted : 2014-04-29 17:04
Updated : 2014-04-29 18:12

Yoo tries to protect reputation as photographer

By Kin Da-ye

Yoo Byung-eun
For former Semo Group Chairman Yoo Byung-eun, whose family owns the sunken ferry Sewol, his reputation as a photographer matters the most, apparently.

Yoo, who stepped down from the chairmanship and now works as a photographer under the name AHAE, issued an English-language statement to defend against Korean media reports that the affiliates of Semo Group were forced to buy his photos at rip-off prices, helping him form secret funds. He also managed to obtain backing statements from a Czech artist and a magazine editor.

"Ahae Press expressed concern that unwarranted accusations have been made by the Korean media questioning AHAE's standing as an artist, and unfairly challenging the value of his art," the statement said along with a brief condolence message to the victims of the accident.

Attached to the press release was a statement from Milan Knizak, former director general of the National Gallery in Prague, who arranged an exhibition of Yoo's works there.

Knizak wrote, "Today AHAE belongs to a group of very few Korean artists who are widely known. One of them was my old friend and colleague Nam June Paik. AHAE's artwork is valued at a reasonable level and never jumped too high."

An editor in chief of a London-based art magazine also supported Yoo against allegations that he paid billions of won to have an exhibition at the Tuileries Garden in Paris hosted by the Louvre Museum. "Accusations like these are so ridiculous that they barely merit discussion," wrote Mike von Joel of State Media.

The lengthy press release, backed with the statements, represents a stark contrast to a short apology issued on April 22 by I-One-I Holdings, an affiliate of Semo Group that directly and indirectly holds a major stake in Chonghaejin Marine. Yoo's two sons are the largest shareholders of I-One-I.

Chonghaejin, the operator of the Sewol, has not given any official statements or updates about the accident, but effectively closed down its website by putting out only a condolence message.

Yoo also denied that he is involved with Chonghaejin.

"Mr. Yoo does not have any involvement in the management or day-to-day operations of Chonghaejin Marine Co. I am dismayed at the media reports linking him to the Sewol incident and suggesting that he is directly responsible for this tragedy. I know that he has been spending every single day of the past four to five years focusing on his photography work," said Michael Ham, managing director of Ahae Press, the publisher of Yoo's photography.

On his photography website,, Yoo describes himself as a multi-talented man, "a master in the art of mask making," a holder of "a seventh-degree black belt in Taekwondo" and "not only an artist, but also a naturalist and conservationist."

Yoo claims that he pursues an "organic lifestyle" and does not manipulate his photos in order to maintain "natural integrity."

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