We highlight five game-changing photographers showcasing Korea’s youth revolt with beautifully documented imagery
With its modern-day metropolises and globally recognised culture, it’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago South Korea was under the rule of a strict dictatorial process. Despite a history marked by conservative presidencies and equally conventional traditions, a new generation of envelope-pushing creatives are emerging to prove that today’s South Korea isn’t just keeping up with the rest of the world. Instead, it’s paving the way for innovation and individuality.
“The Korean Wave” (Hallyu) is a phrase that refers to the importance of millennial artists in Korean culture. Combining K-pop and cosplay with European and American influence, these talented individuals are shaking up the country’s youth culture. A number of the country’s up-and-coming photographers are approaching previously avoided subjects and taking ownership of Korea’s transformed ideologies.
New York-based and Seoul-born, Ji Yeo spent her adolescent years pining over personal perceptions of pretty. Her goal as a teenager was full-body surgery in order to look more Caucasian, a sentiment that’s unfortunately all too common in South Korea. It was during her many consultations that she realised the detrimental impact of western society’s beauty ideals on young people in her country, spawning the series “Beauty Recovering Room”. Yeo’s documentation of young people post-surgery is a stark commentary on ideas of vanity and how it filters down onto an impressionable youth. This work has resulted in the progression of similar projects centred on issues regarding self-esteem, all of which follow a typological approach to documentary photography.
Kim Tae Kyun
Kim Tae Kyun, also known by his photography moniker LESS, is a fashion photographer whose work aims to “capture images that reveal and at the same time, nullify and extinguish or lessen the many boundaries between the young and the grown”. This idea is obvious in his personal work, which captures close-up images of kissing couples, groups of friends partying and an injection of nudity. His commissions include big names from the Hallyu movement, having shot album covers for K-Pop’s Boa, Brown-Eyed Girls and Super Junior. LESS’s work epitomises youth culture in South Korea, solidifying the country’s relevancy in the eyes of fashion’s biggest names and letting the world in on his country’s ever-progressive ideologies.
Starting as a street photographer, Hein-Kuhn Oh has always had an interest in documenting people. Since honing his craft, the photographer has more recently pursued the idea of focusing on specific groups in society. Like Ji Yeo’s work, Oh’s projects are heavily influenced by media perceptions and mainly centre around young girls. “Girl’s Act” and “Cosmetic Girls” are two particular series in which Oh portrays the common notions and stereotypes that are influenced by Korea’s entertainment industry.
Aston Husumu Hwang
Aston Husumu Hwang, who goes simply by “Husumu”, cites his friends as his main influence in photography. The South Korean wild child takes full advantage of his country’s globalisation, with many photographs taken at the hip-hop gigs often frequented by the artist. He claims music is essential to his work, and prefers shooting in clubs because “People are cool there ’cause they are drunk and easy to shoot”. Often using the camera as a tool to remember what happened the night before, Husumu’s images are a gritty insight into the exciting club-life led by the country’s teenagers. His portfolio is further proof of Korea’s widespread renunciation of conservative ideals.
Koo Sung Soo
Koo Sung Soo is a photographer making images that question the prevalence of western culture’s presence in South Korea. Objects of daily American life – like a fake Statue of Liberty, for example – are over-saturated to provide magnified effect. The statue is henceforth placed on a pedestal, manipulated into the focal point of an otherwise dull image. From this point of view, the artist makes a point about the overbearing influence that America has on South Korea – an issue that has finally gained traction in the country.