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Inside South Korea’s Art Scene: The Most Important Photography Awards Supporting Emerging Artists

Since its invention, photography has significantly impacted our visual culture, reshaping our notion of image and contemporary photography art.

As photography has become a powerful art form, a number of Korean institutions aim to recognize the potential of the emerging talents to encourage their artistic practices in photography that reveal various issues and subjects surrounding the genre.

The 10th KT&G SKOPF, GoEun Museum of Photography & KT&G Sangsangmadang Photographers of the Year, Busan. December 1, 2018 - February 20, 2019. © GoEun Foundation.


KT&G SKOPF is an award program that seeks to discover and support young Korean professionals with the potential to develop the field of Korean photography art. The program accepts submissions from artists who attempt to experiment with photography to create new visual expressions as well as artists who think in-depth about the medium’s role in the contemporary art world. 

Three artists are selected to receive 10 million KRW in total to create new works with a mentoring program to hold a three-person group exhibition. One final winner is selected among the three participants, and this winner receives 40 million KRW with an opportunity to open a solo exhibition and print a catalog. 

KT&G is a leading tobacco and health functional food company in South Korea. As part of the company’s contribution to public and cultural welfare, it has been running an arts and culture complex entitled Sangsangmadang to hold various events and programs related to arts and culture and encourage exchanges between the arts and the public. Since 2018, KT&G has supported the activities of a total of forty-two photography artists through giving mentoring support, offering opportunities to hold exhibitions, and publishing art books with the total funding support of 1.2 billion KRW.

Exhibition view of "Kim Chun Soo: Low-cut, Low-pass" at Ilwoo Space, Seoul. August 30 - October 2, 2018. ⓒ Artist/ Ilwoo Foundation.

Ilwoo Photography Award

The Ilwoo Photography Award was established “to discover and educate passionate artists in the fields of photographs, including arts, advertisement, and documentary, as a part of its effort to support culture and art.” For the arts, the program selects one artist each year from all nationalities working in all genres of art that use photography media.

The winner is chosen by five Korean and international experts who work in the field of photography. When its first edition was held,  Stephan Shore, an American photographer, and Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the department of photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, participated as the jurors. The selected artist is provided with funds, which will be 20 million KRW in total, to work on new artworks and hold a solo exhibition at Ilwoo Space. 

Established in 1991, the Ilwoo Foundation is an affiliated organization of the Hanjin Group. The foundation was established with the mission of contributing to society through projects that promote arts and culture and scholarships to incubate and support the activities of the next generation. The Ilwoo Photography Award was established in 2009 to support promising artists who have not yet received the spotlight despite their outstanding talent and passion. Another of their projects in the arts sector is Ilwoo Space, an exhibition space that opened in 2010 in the lobby of the Korean Air Building in Seoul.

Partial exhibition view of Kim Shinwook's Solo Exhibition "In Search of Nessie" at Amado Artspace/Lab, Seoul. the 7th Amado Photography Award. November 20 - December 20, 2020. ⓒ Artist/ Amado Artspace/Lab.

Amado Photography Award

As the concept and meaning of photography are constantly changing in the digital age, the Amado Photography Award aims to take notice of artists who re-examine and redefine the meaning of photography and shed light on the importance of the medium.

The Amado Photography Award accepts submissions every year from Asian artists under the age of 41 who work in the field of photography and digital media. After the first portfolio evaluation, the final winner is selected through an interview presentation. The winner gets an opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at Amado Artspace/Lab and a prize of 10 million KRW, including the artwork production fee and installation fee. Additional support for printing an artist catalog and print-outs for the exhibition is provided. 

Amado Art Space/Lab opened in June 2013 at an old three-story house from the 1980s by a group of art critics and independent curators to create an open space for experiments in the field of art. The institution aims to become an alternative to the current visual-centered, outcome-based institutional art world by acting as a process-based institution that creates an open community for various artistic practices.

Exhibition view of "2021 Mirae Award" at Canon Gallery, Seoul. April 14 — June 5, 2022. © Parkgeonhi Foundation/ Canon Korea Inc.

Mirae Award 

The Mirae Award is a program that aims to recognize the next generation of photographers. Since 2010, the program has accepted submissions of unpublished works from Korean undergraduates regardless of their academic background. Organized by the Parkgeonhi Foundation in partnership with Canon Korea Inc. and funded by Image One, the program started in 2008 under the name of ‘Canon Scholarship by Parkgeonhi Foundation’ and now aims to be a catalyst for young future artists to continue their artistic practice through photography.

A total of 60 million KRW is awarded to three winners, including Canon EOS R6 cameras, a tutoring opportunity with renowned Korean photographers, holding a group exhibition at the Canon Gallery in Seoul, and a chance to get their works published in a catalog.  

In 2001, the Parkgeonhi Foundation was founded as a nonprofit art institution in recognition of various activities that Parkgeonhi (1967–1995), co-founder of Korean search engine DAUM, has conducted for the development of visual arts in Korea. Park was the first person to open a virtual gallery in Korea and has done online live streaming of the first Gwangju Biennale. 

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