Marcin T Jozefiak’s photo book Fearless Flowers celebrates the diversity of youth culture in Seoul
When Marcin T Jozefiak moved to Seoul in 2018, having completed his art studies and worked in the photography industry for several years, he encountered a thriving, yet somewhat contradictory city. As one of the world’s centres of technological innovation – with companies like Samsung and LG headquartered in the city – there were robots, giant streetside LED screens, and the world’s fastest internet speeds. Yet, despite the futuristic setting and hyper-connectivity, he initially felt a detachment from the nearly ten million others he shared the streets with.
“It’s extremely fast-paced, futuristic, efficient,” Jozefiak tells Dazed, reflecting on the city he now calls home. “But I think because of the distance and there’s so much work, people don’t necessarily spend so much time with each other. You can really lose track of time in this city – you start doing something at the beginning of the month and suddenly it’s already the end.”
He also encountered a society that, at face value, is deeply conservative towards sex and sexuality. With reactionary lawmakers and conservative Christian groups holding powerful influence in the country’s politics, there is no legal protection against discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community. While this is changing – with a bill introduced in recent months that would legalise same-sex marriage – queer people often still face inequality when it comes to family law, insurance and daily life.
Jozefiak has observed a shifting tide in attitudes, particularly from members of the younger generation, yet the subject remains taboo. “People are slowly becoming more open to different sexualities and people are more represented, but no one is using the words,” he says. “So, in some cases, there might be a gay character on TV, but they won’t say the word ‘gay’.”
The photographer’s latest photographic series and debut photobook, Fearless Flowers, is his way of exploring the complexity of Seoul’s cultural landscape and the true diversity of its inhabitants. Taken over the course of two years, the intimate, powerful studio portraits feature Korean youth – many of whom are openly queer – proudly inhabiting their identities. “It all comes from me trying to learn more about the culture and understand it,” he says. “I was just trying to understand where the diversity [was] or where the subcultures are – actually seeing how people feel about living here and just wanting to connect.”
Often adorned with flowers – symbols of “innocence, timelessness and purity” – the pictures place Jozefiak’s subjects and their experiences front and centre of each shot. Before setting up each photograph he would spend hours speaking with his subjects and learning about their experiences – working collaboratively with them to showcase their stories, strengths and vulnerabilities, while creating a space to fully express themselves.
Doing so was particularly important to him, as a foreign artist and photographer aware of his own Western gaze. “I don’t think it’s for me to [comment] as an expert or anything, I didn’t want as the creator of this project to make any statements,” he explains. “It’s a slow process because it’s also their personal stuff – it’s about allowing that person to open up by creating as safe a zone as possible.”
In June, Jozefiak held an exhibition at the CICA Museum in Seoul, giving the chance for a Korean audience to encounter the beauty of his sitters. “Most of the visitors who came to see my exhibition had never come across someone openly gay or trans, or has tattoos, is a drag queen, or just someone who feels comfortable with their bodies,” he says. One person approached him personally at the show to tell him how much it meant to her. “It was a mind-blowing moment. She said that she was going through a hard time, and seeing one of the photographs really helped her.
“As a photographer and creator you work towards these moments,” he continues. “I think, overall, for the people I photographed, seeing [their picture] in a book or as a printed version gives a bit of confidence knowing that they are on the right path – that they are part of that change.”
Fearless Flowers by Marcin T Jozefiak is available to buy here now.