To celebrate the launch of our new Korean sister site which went live this weekend, today we're investigating the cultural influence and innovation of the country's most exciting creatives. Explore the world of K-pop with new interviews with B.A.P, Taeyang and 4minute, meet Snowpiercer actress Ko Ah-sung and take a look at North Korea's life online. Check back here for more throughout the day.
South Korea’s moment has been extended indefinitely. The younger generation is shaking off some of the rigid constraints of previous decades while enjoying the fruits of global economic success. Hallyu, the Korean pop culture wave is looking more like an ocean teeming with pop icons and drama stars like G-Dragon, Girls Generation and rising stars like Neon Bunny. It’s amazing to think that a mere thirty years ago, South Korea was in the grip of a dictator and reeling from a destructive war that bred poverty and devastation. But in the past decade or so, Western culture has brought with it fashion, hip-hop, and the works of Juergen Teller, Terry Richardson and Ryan McGinley. Like most foreign customs, Koreans took it and made their own.
This is most apparent by looking at the work of some of Korea’s best photographers today. Sexy, daring and honest, they push the envelope to reveal their lives, sexuality and bodies. For centuries, the Korean peninsula was known as the hermit kingdom – but thanks to photography, we are getting up close and personal with this generation of young Koreans.
Hasisi Park is the darling of Western publications: once a muse and subject, she's now established herself as a multimedia artist and studio photographer. We’ve had a crush on her ever since her sweetly provocative image, portrayed in photos with ex-boyfriend Jackson Eaton began making waves on the internet. The momentum hasn’t stopped for Hasisi, now a studio photographer shooting for eccentric Korean labels like The Centaur and snapping portraits of K-pop idols. Hasisi’s portraits are intimate without being stuffy; they're also beautiful to look at. Appropriately, Hasisi’s favorite subjects are "pretty ones. Whatever looks pretty to me... and of course I try to get a story out of them or the other way around, it makes the pictures even more rich." But it might make for some awkward conversation if a boyfriend's dad ever googles her. As she bashfully says of the last time this happened: "There were heaps of naked me!"
Kim Tae Kyun, otherwise known as Less, epitomizes the glamorous world of fashion and modelling that every Korean girl aspires to. He chose his moniker after realizing that his intention was to, as he puts it, "capture images that reveal and at the same time, nullify and extinguish or lessen the many boundaries between the young and the grown". Lately he’s shot album covers for K-pop musicians, including Boa, Super Junior, F(x), Shinee, Brown Eyed Girls, and IU to name a few. Anyone who knows K-pop can tell you that’s pretty impressive.
Less became a photographer because he had the notion that “moments which seemed difficult for me to experience were kept within photographs". He asks some of the most famous celebrities in Korea to be playful, even coy – something he achieves by getting them to talk to him as much as possible. That kind of intimacy is rare, but it’s apparent that his subjects trust in his vision.
As a teenager in Seoul, Ji Yeo worked a part-time job in order to save up for plastic surgery. “My goal was to have surgery on my whole body as soon as I graduated from high school,” she says. In and out of consultations, she saw the toll that societal pressures took on young women as they went in and out of surgery, often getting multiple procedures at once. Inspired and emboldened, Ji Yeo embarked on her internationally acclaimed photographic series the Beauty Recovering Room, which interrupts the usual before-and-after plastic surgery narrative by depicting women recovering from surgery. "The reason I started this project was because I had my own self esteem issues," she says. "In high school my only goal was to become pretty.” Ultimately, Ji Yeo decided against going under the knife, but that hasn’t stopped her from charging ahead with her message.
Korea’s youth are also reflecting on life, pondering big life decisions and sometimes delaying cultural norms like marriage in order to go after their dreams. Nina Ahn captures precisely this dreamy world with her sharp but thoughtful photography. Unlike most aspiring artists in Korea, Nina didn’t attend a competitive art school. "I bet if I studied arts I couldn't stand competitive art school students," she says. "Until now photography is just joyful hobby to me."
ASTON HUSUMU HWANG
Growing up, Aston (or Husumu as he's better known) enjoyed taking photos while on trips with his family. Now Hsusmu just goes out to clubs with friends and takes pictures. "Koreans love alcohol," he says. Sometimes shooting what happens throughout the night even helps him and his friends remember what went down. The hip-hop inspired young things in his photos are decked out in oversized jackets, baseball caps, and bling. "I love alcohol," Husumu says, "and I love to play, love music – especially hip-hop. And of course I love to shoot. Where can I do all that? The club, that's the best spot to do all of that. People are cool there 'cause they are drunk and easy to shoot."