Agnes Dherbeys

South Korea / France

© Agnes Dherbeys


During the 70s and the 80s, South Korea exported for adoption more children than any other country. According to the Korean Authorities, 150,944 infants were put up for adoption between 1953 and 2006.

I was born in South Korea, in December 1976 and was admitted into White Lily Orphanage at 11 days old, my number was # K76-3613. In April 1977 after being placed in a foster family for 4 months, my French parents adopted me.

In this project, I hope to return to the place of my birth, to begin a photographic odyssey about return, quest and identity. My aim is not to find my biological family, but to engage myself into a visual inquiry at once lucid, rigorous yet also intimate by exploring the feelings of abandonment and adoption.

Adoption often gives (along with its benefits), a great sense of loss: confusion of one’s roots, damage of personal identity and the (symbolic) mourning for the biological parents. I today reach a point where exploring these sentiments has become a visceral emergency that I want to address photographically only.

This is a real legitimate inquiry into the feelings of the adopted and into the women who give their children up for adoption. Yet it is also a revelatory personal journey of self discovery and identity; on the way it will challenge how I think about myself and others, but moreover how photography can actually be used to learn more about oneself.

Words from our Jury Panel:

“This project is different in the sense that I was intrigued from the moment i read the proposition. I have had a few friends here who were adopted just like Agnes so I immediately related to her story. What I like about Agnes’ work is that she is very creative in her visual language. She is combining different styles and it’s in a way like she’s searching to achieve the visual that matches the project she’s working on.

The project is one of the only ones that was so personal, about herself, the photographer. So, what we have here is a good photographer, with a variety of techniques and styles, taking on a journey of self-discovery. The distribution plan and ways of making an impact are well developed, in line with the project and that was definitely not the case with many of the other propositions.”
– Bruno De Cock, Photo Editor, Medecins Sans Frontieres International

“This project is ambitious, challenging and would be a lifetime achievement.  I’ve no doubt with her photographic skills, complete understanding and feeling for the story she could pull it off as a major contribution to photo culture and understanding the world of adoption. As this could be her ‘lifetime’ project, a project about Agnes herself, I imagine this to be produced over a much longer period of time.”
– John Novis, Head of Photography, Greenpeace International


Dherbeys is a Bangkok-based French photographer. She graduated with honours from the Master of Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Lyon and from master2 of Sciences of Information from Celsa, Sorbonne IV. Her work internationally published, focus in Asia.
In 2005, the Foundation Lagardere grant for photography allowed her to work on a two years long project “East Timor, the crushed dreams of independency” – exhibited in Visa pour l’Image and in WA, Australia. She won Second Prize Spot News Story in World Press Photo 2007 with her coverage on the uprising against King Gyanendra. She was one of the 12 participants to the Joop Swart Masterclass, following the tale of 2 generations of Tibetans in exile in Nepal. Her coverage of the 2010 Red Shirts turmoil in Thailand was exhibited at the BACC-Bangkok, in RUPTURE exhibition, curated by Olivier Pin Fat. This body of work, published in the New York Times was awarded the OPC Robert Capa Gold Medal Award.

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