Street Fashion Portrait Consent/Concept/Contact Card

Who I Am and What I Do

This page is designed to illustrate 1) who I am and 2) what we are doing in relation to me taking your portrait here on the street today.

SFW @ SETEC in October, 2007

SFW @ SETEC in October, 2007

First off, I am the longest-operating street fashion photographer/blogger in Korea. I began doing street photography in Seoul in August 2002 and switched to street fashion in late 2006 when I began Korea's first street fashion blog, before switching over to pure street fashion portraiture in late 2007, when I began covering street fashion at Seoul Fashion Week in SETEC as well as the Seoul Fashion Artists' Association (SFAA) shows around Seoul. At the time, I was the only consistently active street fashion portrait photographer around, Korean or otherwise, shooting randomly-chosen subjects in the streets. 

SFW @ SETEC in March 2009. 

SFW @ SETEC in March 2009. 

My name is Michael Hurt and I'm a photographer and professor living in Seoul, Korea. I received my doctorate from UC Berkeley's Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies and also started the first street fashion blog in South Korea in 2006. I am a professor at Yonsei University, where I   teach both Hallyu Marketing and Visual Sociology. I have been covering street fashion on the streets of Seoul since 2006 and street fashion people at Seoul Fashion week since 2007.

More information about me is available through a simple search on Google (in English) and the Korean search engine Naver (in Korean). I also write about and shoot Korean Street Fashion for the Huffington Post USA, and have done feature stories on Korean fashion for CNN Travel. I also wrote for featured articles on Naver Post in Korean, and my work has found exposure in places from the Donga Ilbo to Joongang Sunday.  His pictures can be followed on Instagram under the ID kuraeji, with Facebook ID: metropolitician

Textile Industry News (TINNews), 2010. 

Textile Industry News (TINNews), 2010. 

CNNGo (CNN Travel), 2010. 

CNNGo (CNN Travel), 2010. 

Glamour Germany, 2017. 

Glamour Germany, 2017. 

Joongang Sunday, 2016.

Joongang Sunday, 2016.

Please center this text in your phone and display this along with the whiteboard contact information plate for a picture:

I consent to the taking of this photograph and its publication in various media.

I consent to the taking of this photograph and its publication in various media. (in Korean)

 

Alien Architecture, Street Fashion, and the Hyperreality of the Street Fashion Scene at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza

NOTE: This is more of an intellectual bookmark than a fully developed argument. Hashing this out in public and shooting down/pumping up parts of it is part of my process for "pre-chewing" this idea before I decide to scrap it or invest more into making it into an academic paper. At the very least, it's something likely to be worthy of discussion for my university classes and could be something interesting to the right researcher/thinker/student. 

Truly Alien terrain, by H.R. Giger. 

Truly Alien terrain, by H.R. Giger. 

By Eugene Lim [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Eugene Lim [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

First Things First
I've never really written a proper Urban Studies or  Geography paper. But given what I've been noticing about the particularly peculiar space in which I have been doing ethnographic data gathering for the past five years (ten Seoul Fashion Week seasons at  the Dongdaemun Design Plaza), I felt compelled to write things up in some organized and marginally academic form. So I'm taking a crack at it and writing out my thoughts, laying them out so I can even better organize them in my head. 

Background of the Paper
During my class on Hallyu Marketing, I had asked the question of how the Dongdaemun Design Plaza building itself worked to define a particular, peculiar kind of social space for the street fashion scene during Seoul Fashion Week. And it occcured to me that one factor in the explosion of the street fashion scene at DDP after it opened in 2012 was the way the nature of the sturucture itself set the tone for a new kind of social/sartorial culture, bounded spatially by the structure  of the alien "spaceship" and temporally by the SFW event itself. Ayway, I think there's a lot to flesh out here. 

An A L I E N  Space

Much ado has been made about the alienness of the DDP structure. From "Embracing the Alien Spaceship" in the Korea Herald to the same spacey sentiment being echoed by CNN Travel and The Korea Times, and even received a (literal) sendup video put together by what appears to be some Arirang TV folks in their spare time. 

In short, the association with aliens was clear and immediate and initially set off alarm bells as a long, publicly funded project that had been fraught with construction issues, clashing political agendas among myriad actors, and the jarring, sheer alienness of a structure that was a monument to Parametricism and quite likely a milestone in the future of architecture and human relationships to the built environment, but in that very way, was just plain strange.  But it is that very strangeness of the building that I'd like to explore here, as my observations of the street fashion culture at Seoul Fashion Week since it opened the building in 2012 have told me that the strangeness of the building is what imbued the space it physically defines with a different, broader range of social options and actions that was very un-Korean and enabled a certain kind of social and sartorial freedom to thrive. The "spaceship is surrounded and filled with a "force field" of social and sartorial openness with a power generated by the twice yearly Seoul fashion Week event. The SFW event permanently held twice a year at the DDP defines a unique place in social spacetime in which all bets and restrictive social norms are off, and provide a social cover under which the social "freaks" do indeed feel free to "come out", to use the words of the old Whodini standard. 

Check. 

Check. 

And check. I'd say that the flowering of the practice of street fashion photography at DDP is elegant "proof" of the intended concepts behind the building's construction. 

And check. I'd say that the flowering of the practice of street fashion photography at DDP is elegant "proof" of the intended concepts behind the building's construction. 

 

Developing the Hypperreal Aesthetic
I had the goal of creating  a lookbook that 1) addresses the nature of DDP during SFW as an un-Korean space for social aliens, and 2) provides an aesthetic match for the documentation of DDP during SFW as a space of Hyperreality, and 3) offers an aesthetic and stylistic consistency between the pictures in the collection as a lookbook.

The beginning of a lookbook for Seoul Street Fashion Week that captures the textually hybrid and heavily remixed look of Seoul's hypermodern paepi.

The beginning of a lookbook for Seoul Street Fashion Week that captures the textually hybrid and heavily remixed look of Seoul's hypermodern paepi.

This hypermodern aesthetic is characterized by: 

  1. Heavily mediated reality. Instagram filters, frames, everything. All aspects of the images' initial mediation -- from filters and frames and exposure fixes -- are included as a part of the final image. It's as important as the initial moment of imagemaking itself. 
  2. Spatial and social layering. The images should ideally match the idea of showing the subject in relation to "a space of simultaneity" in which layers of space and spaces of social action are visible, in the way that the unique conception and  construction of the building encourage flow, and the use of the spaces that have no delineated end or beginning, inside or outside, in which "each space is made unique and memorable in its articulation, albeit without fragmenting the overall aesthetic" Photographically, this means a sense of layers and separations between elements and actors, yet they are unified within the frame, without a feeling of discrete separation between them, in the way the building structure allows for the unique kind of relationship and type of social interaction the building was designed to engender.
  3. A surreal affect. A "flashy," commercial look.
  4. Close-up, direct portraiture. The eyeline of the subject goes directly into the lens and the gazer. It's a direct, intimate connection that anchors what is obviously the central element and offers a point of direct communication with the viewer. 

Two Prongs of Investigation

  1. Documenting an extant culture of Hyperreality with the proper tools, along with written theory, as an academic paper utilizing standard academic tools such as recorded audio interviews. 
  2. An expression of Hyperreality through heavily mediated, aesthetically enhanced Visuals as a commercially viable Lookbook. 

 

Dual sets of spatial and social layers are brought together in this image, in which an open sky stands in sharp contrast to multiple foregrounds composed of concete and steel. The exposure itself utilizes an indoor studio flash unit outdoors and exposes almost to the point of whiteout, but underexposes the sky to accentuate the stormy weather that was indeed fast developing. The social layering of the young, colorful, bright, and shiny Korean youth popped out against a seemingly older, more conservative woman of the Islamic faith looking upon the subject with a mix of surprise and slight disdain is also interesting, and also includes a binary opposition of the subject engaged in an intimate, one-on-one photographic interaction in a public place, against a line of passersby. All the while giving the Janet Lynn/Japanese "V"-sign of extreme optimism while wearing a lavender, ladylike choker/bowtie atop a Madonna-originated "Like a Virgin" meme witten in gaudy, jarringly jagged script that seems to go against the mood of the gesture and its bearer. 

Dual sets of spatial and social layers are brought together in this image, in which an open sky stands in sharp contrast to multiple foregrounds composed of concete and steel. The exposure itself utilizes an indoor studio flash unit outdoors and exposes almost to the point of whiteout, but underexposes the sky to accentuate the stormy weather that was indeed fast developing. The social layering of the young, colorful, bright, and shiny Korean youth popped out against a seemingly older, more conservative woman of the Islamic faith looking upon the subject with a mix of surprise and slight disdain is also interesting, and also includes a binary opposition of the subject engaged in an intimate, one-on-one photographic interaction in a public place, against a line of passersby. All the while giving the Janet Lynn/Japanese "V"-sign of extreme optimism while wearing a lavender, ladylike choker/bowtie atop a Madonna-originated "Like a Virgin" meme witten in gaudy, jarringly jagged script that seems to go against the mood of the gesture and its bearer. 

As a structure designed  as the pinnacle of Parametricism, a design principle that  can function as "an interface for multi-modal communication" and integrates interior and exterior, inside and outside, natural and synthetic, land and sky, green and city space, and even light vs. dark, this is one of the only places in the city where one can shoot with these binaries all displayed in their stark oppositions within a single frame, especially as this is framed by the structure itself, which is designed to encourage social uses as mixed as the spaces themselves refuse to delineate themselves from one another. This mixture -- or lack of strict, traditional, spatial delineation  -- is perhaps also that which is alien and in fact fits in with a certain community of social users who are themselves very much caught up in a cuolture whose very currency is that of the kind of free-form semiotic remixing and blending inherent to the Hypermodernity they both define and inhabit.  

As a structure designed  as the pinnacle of Parametricism, a design principle that  can function as "an interface for multi-modal communication" and integrates interior and exterior, inside and outside, natural and synthetic, land and sky, green and city space, and even light vs. dark, this is one of the only places in the city where one can shoot with these binaries all displayed in their stark oppositions within a single frame, especially as this is framed by the structure itself, which is designed to encourage social uses as mixed as the spaces themselves refuse to delineate themselves from one another. This mixture -- or lack of strict, traditional, spatial delineation  -- is perhaps also that which is alien and in fact fits in with a certain community of social users who are themselves very much caught up in a cuolture whose very currency is that of the kind of free-form semiotic remixing and blending inherent to the Hypermodernity they both define and inhabit.  

I am often questioned, with varying degrees of suspicion and even anger, why I shoot from a low angle. I usually answer on one or more levels of depth, depending on how pointed the inquiry is and how charitable I feel. The obvious, practical answer is that it makes the legs look longer and hence the subject taller, with the head appearing smaller (something that Korean women generally like) and the subject generally looking grand and gigantic against the structures with which she appears. Simply put, the subject looks not only better to the subject herself, but becomes an object similar to the buildings she is set off against. And in a structure like the DDP, this makes the human subject into something of a stature as grand in scale as the built structure. On a slightly more analytical level, the lower camera angle (with a wide-angle lens) allows for a lot more elements to be placed in the frame. In the case of this picture, lining up the subject, the building, the flags, the other people, the sky, and even the drone that had buzzed in to spy on us all within the same frame was the only thing that made such a thing possible. On the level of architectural analysis, it makes sense to place the human subject in the frame with the low/wide angle because the scale of the human subject grows to the point it can enter into a binary with the immense structures around it, in a way that doesn't figuratively put built structures into a mere background. It compresses foreground and background in an artificial, yet aesthetically useful way to placing humans into an active relationship with the built environments in which they are pictured. 

I am often questioned, with varying degrees of suspicion and even anger, why I shoot from a low angle. I usually answer on one or more levels of depth, depending on how pointed the inquiry is and how charitable I feel. The obvious, practical answer is that it makes the legs look longer and hence the subject taller, with the head appearing smaller (something that Korean women generally like) and the subject generally looking grand and gigantic against the structures with which she appears. Simply put, the subject looks not only better to the subject herself, but becomes an object similar to the buildings she is set off against. And in a structure like the DDP, this makes the human subject into something of a stature as grand in scale as the built structure. On a slightly more analytical level, the lower camera angle (with a wide-angle lens) allows for a lot more elements to be placed in the frame. In the case of this picture, lining up the subject, the building, the flags, the other people, the sky, and even the drone that had buzzed in to spy on us all within the same frame was the only thing that made such a thing possible. On the level of architectural analysis, it makes sense to place the human subject in the frame with the low/wide angle because the scale of the human subject grows to the point it can enter into a binary with the immense structures around it, in a way that doesn't figuratively put built structures into a mere background. It compresses foreground and background in an artificial, yet aesthetically useful way to placing humans into an active relationship with the built environments in which they are pictured. 

Here are some theoretical strings I've found that seem to be worth pulling, some possible points of attaching good theoretical handles to this whole thing. 

it's an old article about "flexible sociality" of Seoul's public spaces, and despite the age of its references, you could stick in a reference to PSY's 2012 "Gangnam Style" here without skipping a beat. Given how much has changed since 1999, that's pretty impressive. 

it's an old article about "flexible sociality" of Seoul's public spaces, and despite the age of its references, you could stick in a reference to PSY's 2012 "Gangnam Style" here without skipping a beat. Given how much has changed since 1999, that's pretty impressive. 

Also worthy of consideration is the idea of consuming alienness itself, or difference itself. Of particular interest in the interview and interactions I've had was the idea of differently alien spaces in the trendy Itaewon/Kyeongnidan/Haebangchon are being "exotic" (이국적인) places overflowing with a feeling of "freedom."(자유) Here are a couple of the representative interview/interaction/portraits. It remains to be seen if I'm going to tie this into the DDP Alien structure idea or spin it off as another paper unto itself. 

 

Working Bibliography (my reading homework, actually)

Architects, Zaha Hadid. 2013. “ARTICULATION,” 44–51.

Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter. Routledge. Vol. 36. doi:10.1177/0306312706056409.

Cho, Myung-rae. n.d. “Flexible Sociality and the Postmodernity of Seoul.”

Collection, Proquest Scitech. 2014. “Blend of Design , Art and Technology ...”

For. 2012. “Report Information from ProQuest.” Organization Development Journal, no. April. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17506200710779521.

Goffman, Erving. 1975. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Life as Theater. doi:10.2307/258197.

Hwang, Jin Tae. 2014. “Territorialized Urban Mega-Projects beyond Global Convergence: The Case of Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park Project, Seoul.” Cities 40. Elsevier Ltd: 82–89. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2014.03.007.

Kim, Ji Youn. 2016. “Cultural Entrepreneurs and Urban Regeneration in Itaewon, Seoul.” Cities 56: 132–40. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2015.11.021.

Kim, Ji Youn. 2014. “COMMUNITY OF STRANGERS: ITAEWON FROM ‘AMERICANIZED’ GHETTO TO ‘MULTICULTURAL’ SPACE.”

Križnik, Blaž. 2013. “Changing Approaches to Urban Development in South Korea.” International Development Planning Review 35 (4): 395–418. doi:10.3828/idpr.2013.27.

Leach, Neil. 2015. “(In)formational Cities.” Architectural Design 85 (6): 64–69. doi:10.1002/ad.1979.

Ryu, Chehyun, and Youngsang Kwon. 2016. “How Do Mega Projects Alter the City to Be More Sustainable? Spatial Changes Following the Seoul Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project in South Korea.” Sustainability 8 (11): 1178. doi:10.3390/su8111178.

Schuetze, Thorsten, and Lorenzo Chelleri. 2016. “Urban Sustainability Versus Green-Washing-Fallacy and Reality of Urban Regeneration in Downtown Seoul.” Sustainability (Switzerland) 8 (1): 1–14. doi:10.3390/su8010033.

Schumacher, Patrik. 2016. “Parametricism 2.0: Gearing up to Impact the Global Built Environment.” Architectural Design 86 (2): 8–17. doi:10.1002/ad.2018.

Section, Long, and Zaha Hadid Architects. n.d. “A Cavernous Experience.”

Yun, Jieheerah. 2014. “Construction of the World Design Capital: D^|^#233;tournement of Spectacle in Dongdaemun Design Park ^|^amp; Plaza in Seoul.” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 13 (1): 17–24. doi:10.3130/jaabe.13.17.

Defining the Mean, Median, and Mode of Korean Street Fashion

OK. It's pretty simple math, Bob:

The "mean" is the "average" you're used to, where you add up all the numbers and then divide by the number of numbers. The "median" is the "middle" value in the list of numbers. To find the median, your numbers have to be listed in numerical order from smallest to largest, so you may have to rewrite your list before you can find the median. The "mode" is the value that occurs most often. If no number in the list is repeated, then there is no mode for the list. [SOURCE]

It's middle school math applied to the process of choosing subjects to represent the totality of Korean social (and sartorial) reality. Because documenting the Korean street fashion culture is essentially ethnography, and faces the same set of bias/sampling concerns that sociologists face. Because -- GASP -- it is essentially sociology you're doing if you're doing ethnographic portraiture, which is essentially what true street fashion photographers who grab people in the wild, are doing. 

But obviously, the ethnographic pursuit of taking people off the streets who just happen to be there is not a mathematical one; but we can take conceptual cues from math to understand what we're doing. 

First of all, the mean is pretty much the average, within a given set of values, say the people you can see on the street. But how do you take the average in the social sense? It's hard. But here's one thing I do know:

Not average people. 

Not average people. 

These people do not look like the average person on the Korean street, in a socially normal place, from most coffee shops or even universities, or in neighborhoods as fairly mundane as Jongno all the way down to Gangnam, or even Hongdae -- if you just stand there and look at ALL people passing by. They are simply not in the majority. I think if we take the mathematical metaphor further, we can agree that these people occupy a "higher" place in the hierarchy of the ideas of "fashionable" or "interesting." They're not in the majority. Most people don't dress this way -- anywhere. Common social sense tells us that these people are outliers, statistically speaking. And they're outliers on the upper end of the sartorial hierarchy. 

And there's a selection issue here. In that they're not statistically representative, such subjects are surely possessed of some kind of specialness  that make them interesting as examples of Korean street fashion, right? Well, since I chose these subjects, I'll explain my logic thusly: 

  1. First, they're wearing trend items that occur (to my knowledge) in higher frequency in Korea, and/or are produced in Korea.
  2. Secondly, they're (subjectively and aethetically speaking) interesting and colorful pieces of clothing that define (often by slightly breaking) Korean social norms of dress and even gender, which I think says something about Korean society in general. 
  3. Thirdly, they're willing to pose, since they're a self-selecting group of people whom many would call "paepi" (portmanteau word for "fashion people" in Korean pronunciation of the English words) who generally want to be photographed. 

So, inevitably, if you want to know what Korean people are actually wearing, and possibly why, or even what it all means, you have to think about the selection bias of the investigator. And that goes not only for weird academics like me who look at street fashion as an inherently social, communicative series of acts,  but at all the other investigators in the field, who themselves are often engaged in carrying out their own quite specific agendas (e.g. showing the "best" street fashion in Korea or proving how "good" Korean street fashion is now vis a vis comparisons to other countries' putative street fashions).  But no matter where you place the investigator's interests or agendas, I think we can agree that anyone representing the man pictured below as representative of what most Korean men are wearing is pulling a fast one:

Or this wonderfully dressed and singularly confident young woman:

While these two subjects are wonderful in their choice of clothing and their overall, respective aesthetics, and are actually quite amazingly focused models in their own rights, this all makes them pretty damn socially unusual.  Not in a bad way, but in a statistical one. 

And yes, their sartorial and aesthetic choices do tell us something about Korea. Even though the girl is actually Japanese. Take the girl, for example. She's wearing fashion items that are all, on the individual level, from the fishnet stockings worn outside and above the pantsline, the large choker that references punk or possibly S&M culture edginess, and the black leather jacket, popular items on the Korean street today -- so what she's wearing occurs in high frequency within a certain group of people whom many call paepi. In that sense, I thought her important to catch, since her particular set of items define a pretty high frequency, the mode, of these items (values) appearing in the population. When it comes to the dude, his choice of white-on-white suit is almost unheard of in real life, on anyone, of nearly any stripe, in nearly any social situation. But his suit was indicative to me of a type of attitude (swagger) that itself could be described as a (male) Korean trait. It's an example of something I as the investigator am arguing to be representative of a certain, gendered, Korean social trait. But here, I am tipping the scales in a very subjective way since the pattern of consuming and displaying certain specific fashion items does not happen for men in Korea in quite the same way as it does for women (e.g. very specific types/colors/styles of shoes, or other accessories such as skirts, hats, or purses) and to the extent that I think there is much more relative freedom for men in Korea to dress as they choose, this can also be a burden. in that the requirement to possess certain items means that the inherent structuring of their sartorial choices means too much to think about and can be a pain. In any case, my choice of the man had a completely different logic than the woman and reflects my choice to simply include men in my examples since I tend to think in terms of frequency when it comes to choosing subjects. But before this post goes too far off in this direction, let me steer things back to the question of averages.

Socially and sartorially speaking, I don't think it's hard to argue that this is a good example of a well-dressed, average Korean woman. And again, I don't mean average in the loaded, value judgment sense of the word, but rather as a person who doesn't define the high extreme of the range of sartorial option in terms of social unusualness. Nor would, I think, she be arguably able to be described as low on the scale of sartorial extremes, taking formality or usualness as defining the scale.

But I think we can identify the problem with street fashion as a practice of ethnographic, visual investigation. By choosing subjects that generally appear in certain places that themselves are quite special, peculiar social spaces, we are often taking the most statistcally non-representative members of the population and assigning them more weight in specific ways that are functions of a specific, overall agenda. Which isn't necessarily a problem, but let's at least think about the agendas that most affect what it is we think we know -- and are representing  -- as Korean social and sartorial reality. 

See, my project as an academic and a photographer (visual ethnographer) is "keeping it real." Of course, as I have other, more journalistic agendas, my focus may shift, but I generally try to keep to the goal of trying to look at clothing not as objects of interest in and of themselves, which I think leads to the same mistake of fetishizing the clothing as material objects and engaging in the same consumptive relationship with them as the subjects I study. If I am in the thrall of the same Warenfetischismus ("commodity fetishism") as my subjects, and was simply using my camera as my way of engaging with clothing, I'd have no critical distance from the subject such that I could see the forest for the trees anymore. 

And that's the big point -- knowing where you are, the limitations (and imperatives) of one's agenda, which allows one to bound the nature of one's claims and assumptions while asking more interesting questions. And getting more interesting subjects. Oh, and knowing how to think of them when you do have them. 

In this case, I knew the field well enough to take someone who superficially looked fairly conservative and much like the young lady whose picture opened this post, but had marked herself as possessed of enough socio-sartorial transgressiveness that her example could be the center of quite an interesting conversation about social expressiveness, gender norms, and sexuality. When taken to the next level of a semi/unstructured ethnographic interview, that's when a lot of interesting things came into view, including the name of the fashion trend item itself.

This is how I used my coup d'œil, or knowledge of the terrain,  to zoom in on useful ethnographic data,  around things I want to know about, namely the boundaries of the definition of the paepi, the changing terrain of street fashion culture, and even how some of the younger generation even defines itself and some of its norms. 

 

 

The Lookbook of Korean Hypermodernity and Street Fashion as Social Cipher

Fashion Is Important, But Not for the Clothes
Here's the thing. I'm not a fashion guy. I'm not a fashionable guy. I'm not really into fashion. But I do find Korean street fashion endlessly, academically interesting. And have, since stumbling into its direction, in around late 2006. Let me tell you why you might also find it intellectually interesting. 

Street fashion in Korea isn't interesting because of the clothes. (Since I'll refer to "street fashion" as just "fashion" from now on, stick with me.) Fashion in Korea isn't inherently interesting. Trends change but pretty much stay the same. Debating about what's coming next season or what particular trend is good or bad is like debating about whether or not you're a good person because you do or don't like the color Royal Blue. Or whether you like French or Russian caviar. It's pointless. 

Postcolonial hypermodernity.
Korea is a place where people enjoy tonkatsu while wearing blue jeans and listen to gangster rap while wearing English word-emblazoned fashion tees made in the city's unique vertically-integrated fast fashion sweatshop/department stores and chat on Facebook on android cellphones made by Samsung.

Rethinking "Creativity"
But what is awesome about Korean street fashion culture isn’t the amazing styling, although you can like it for that if you want to; it isn’t the subcultural aspects, cuz there ain’t any, really. The Korean paepi doesn’t really constitute a counterculture, or any subcultural values different from the mainstream. Instead, they are fascinating as a new class of Korean superconsumers, as a group of youth who have found a way to gain social validation quickly and efficiently, as superconsumers who turn what Marx called the “commodity fetish” (Warenfetischismus) into a creative endeavor. They flipped a failing of capitalism into a veritable artform. They turned consumption into creation. Fucking think about that shit.

As the cultural product of hypermodernity, the Korean paepi are a testament to the power of human creativity to make the best out of a soulless system, to remix various social tendencies of postcoloniality, Korea’s compressed development, and the cultural hybridity and textual impurity that helped make K-pop a culture industry juggernaut.

Korea is barely shaking off the reins of fasco-capitalism (not the actual democracy that came as a response to it) and still lives with the accumulated leftovers of its all-rationalizing ideologies. Now that it's a consumer society in which the new ideology that rationalizes social action is a function of the structural requirement to consume, consume, consume, and even understand one's own identity as constituted by things one consumes or the choices one makes (or even sees oneself as a commodity for consumption), and young people have become socialized into seeing themselves and everything they do as part of this system, it makes perfect sense that young people -- who have never known a society not possessed of this rationale -- have increasingly developed a fashion culture that reflects these values of identity expression through consumptive acts. So, understanding Korea street fashion culture as the ultimate expression of these consumer values as the culture of a young class of super-consumers, should be a pretty straightforward thing to do. 

Fashion As Cipher
In this way, fashion is a cipher for understanding the biggest cultural-structural shift in Korean society right now. It's the ultimate expression of dominant (not counter- or subcultural) values, of (predominantly) youth culture making sense of the master imperative to eat, consume, and die and, above all, do not question authority unless it's a "Critical Thinking Question" in the the back of the textbook chapters. It's the end of a pretty weird and unbalanced equation in which the Confucian "iron cage" of ideology says one should respect authority, the hierarchy, and the Way Things Are Done™ yet participate in the new Creative Economy™, and be a good critical thinker, but not actual toooo critical.

It's the way theorist Stuart Hall says that yes, while there is a structural imperative that we should all just shut up and be lemmings and consume culture and All the Pretty Things it hawks to us without question or exception, people do talk back to hegemonic control in their own ways. They read the meanings of cultural texts different, strip and denude them, break them apart and construct them, remix them, repurpose them, and a whole myriad of other things. To the extent that the Party Propagandist, the movie director, the poet, or the fashion designer ENCODE the texts with specific meanings, individuals and communities of individuals DECODE them in different ways. And in the wild consumer society that is Korea, in the age of the "Han River Miracle" having given way to "Hell Joseon", the creative act of resistance that is created by the critical space cleared/made possible by the idea of Hell Joseon is what constitutes the creative impulses behind Korean street fashion, especially in youth. In this way, Korean street fashion culture could no more spring up in the older culture of say, Korea in the 1990s (towards the end of the old Han River Miracle paradigm, for which the Korean "IMF Crisis" of 1997 was the death knell) could no more provide the soil for such a culture than a bottle of vinegar coud be expected to yield a flower from even the best possible seed. 

A Melange of Meaning
Fashion has long been the medium in which signs and symbols -- the referers -- freed from their original meanings and contexts mutate, merge, and metamorphasize into a completely new thing that id completely separate and unmoored from their original referents. You can do it consciously, like the playful mix of mix going on with the orange-and-green girl directly below, or you can participate in a branded irony that makes a new meaning and thing out of a random mix of words and brand symbols, in the shirt that is a quite nearly an avant-garde art piece in the way it pairs up words and symbols into a sea of meaninglessness. It's genius. And that's the meaningless (or meaningful?) remixing that modern Korean culture is super-adept at. I talk about this here, in a post I called "ON THE HYBRIDITY, IMPURITY, AND POSTCOLONIALITY OF KOREAN POPULAR CULTURE TEXTS", which is a pretty theoretically useful read if you want to understand what's going on on these mean Korean streets. 


 

Defining a Hyperreal Aesthetic
What I'm actually trying to do with this lookbook of Seoul street fashion is take a disparate group of people who are not being funneled into the aesthetically controlled and formally consistent shooting box of the runway and placed into a regime of visual conformity through highly technical shooting and editing into a consistent regime of visual conformity defined by a clearly visible and palpable style and aesthetic. And I want that aesthetic to logically, tonally, and stylistically match the hyperreal nature of Korean hypermodernity as represented by Korean street fashion's extreme textual remixing. I want the lookbook to have such an aesthetic consistency that even given the fact that the subjects in the pictures will be in so many various and random poses in front of myriad backdrops, the look will define a kind of connective tissue between the pictures that in most fashion lookbooks from the runway is created through having all the models pictured in the exact same positions on the runway, in the same, exact, highly controlled body positions and poses. 

In short, our lookbook is attempting to provide an aesthetic consistency to highly varied sartorial subjects that would normally be provided through formal consistency in traditional fashion media. So, the look is that of a turbo-boosted reality that resembles life looked at with the Saturation slider pushed half its range up to the right, in which the Real still looks too real, and nearly too much so. It visually gives the feeling that what is being pictured is almost Simulation and not unfiltered reality itself. It's documentary, but feel feels a bit fake. Like the pictures we see on Instagram, and indeed in a variety of mediated forms on the Internet and through our mobile devices,  this reality is heavily filtered. Through filters. Which is why on Instagram nowadays, it's a mark of pride and veritable bravery to post something proudly labeled as #nofilter. we are so used to looking at a heavily filtered, mediated, made up reality that it's hard to look at #unfiltered reality without its makeup on. The goal of this lookbook is to remind the viewer of this layered on hyperreality by photographing in a way that makes everything more enhanced, pumped up, saturated, manicured, curated, and Photoshopped. That's why I like to edit with Instagram filters and frames as my main tools, autosharing and hence saving the "originals" on Flickr as I upload them through Instagram and publish the images to be seen, LIKEd, and hopefully commented upon. I want the images in the Seoul street fashion lookbook to evoke the consciously felt, tingling sensation on the nape of the neck that we live in the world of Baudrillard's Simulation and Simulacra; I want the viewer to feel like something's a little off, in the niggling way one often feels the wash of deja vu that Morpheus told us indicated the existence of a glitch in The Matrix

Hopefully, it's working.

 

Announcing: Seoul Street Fashion Week's Spring 2017 Lookbook MVP

Of all my 150+ images shot this season, I have a favorite, an M.V.P.

In this, SSFW's inaugural lookbook season, our Most Venerable Paepi award goes to SHIN Jiyoung, a 3rd-year middle school student hailing from Gangweondo, out in the west side of Korea. 

Why, do you ask, does Little Miss Shin deserve this great honor? Well, it's pretty simple -- her effort and attitude, which is all channeled through her awesomely cute outfit. 

  1. She (and her buds) came in all the way from the West Coast to do the Seoul Fashion Week thing at likely great psycic and fiscal cost as a middle schooler. 
  2. Even as many paepi older than her shy away from self-classifying with that term lest they be thought of ass arrogant or insufficiently humble, Jiyoung and her buds eagerly embrace the term and concept. As true "fashion people" (hence, pae-pi in Korean) who are obsessed with clothing and clothing culture, she certainly fits the bill, even if others might want to cast aspersions.
  3. Her concept, despite what my older Instagram caption says, is that of a "country girl" (which she technically is), unironically and straightforwardly argued through her old-fashioned, lace-encrusted Peter Pan collar, gaudy color choices, and outlandishly bright and ferociously feminine bag from Japan. She just loves it all. And her look. And it takes major gonads to walk around Fashion Week in an outfit no older, more mature and established paepi type would ever take seriously. She took a real risk. She's brave. She felt her fashion enough to possibly get snickered at. And she's in middle school. Now, that's true grit right there. 

And I just think she's a positive, smart young lady who makes me happy to know she exists and is out in her schhol with friends personifying the Revolution. It is from 3rd-year middle school kids such as Jiyoung that the change will come. This is where the true creativity lies, how great sartorial and aesthetic attention is gathered. And she did it with her clever and cute concept, some effort, and a whole lotta chutzpah. And I very much like to see that out there.

It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you, kid.  See you out there again soon!

The Seoul Street Fashion Week 2017 Spring Lookbook!!!

Here is the fruit of a week's worth of work with a new workflow, equipment, and applied aesthetic methodology. In which I bring the studio to the street, in which I can use a flash and have the rich blue sky made possible by f22 yet have the power to punch through that so as to make people pop off the page. I've developed a hyperreal aesthetic that matches the Hyperreality of Korea that undergirds the street fashion culture here, which is actually the World Capital of Hypermodernity. South Korea is the true fulfillment of Guy Dubord's prophecy of a "Society of the Spectacle," where the referers (signs and symbols and meanings) have come completely unmoored from their original referents, where the simulacrum is reality, the copy is the original, the Virtual has become Real. And no where is this more clear than in Korean street fashioncultures, where signs, symbols, and meanings have melded together into an impenetrable sea of relative meaninglessness. But it's fascinating and fun to watch all of Korea's cultural hybridity and textual impurity combine with the postcolonial tendency to embrace wild new mixes of meaning to create entirely new, Koreanized things. So now, I've realized just how important Korean street fashion is -- well, I have since 2006, actually. And it's not about the mere pieces of cloth that hang from Korean bodies. It's what the clothing signifies as complex and layered cultural texts.  I've decided to simply take all this seriously by upping my game fro that of street snaps to creating a runway of the street in front of my camera. This shall be the official record of Korean street fashion culture. Especially now that Seoul Fashion Week has unwittingly become Seoul Street Fashion Week. 

Our Seoul Street Fashion Lookbook
This is SSFW's Spring 2017 Street Fashion Lookbook, in which we don't just take pictures of clothing, but read the culture that informs its creation. Our methodology is that of bringing the studio aesthetic to the street, and trying to link items of clothing as cultural texts to the cultural geography that surrounds and creates it. 

A New Rationale, Workflow, and Methodology
I've been covering Seoul Fashion Week runway for ten years straight. That's 20 seasons and a lot of boring, mechanical shooting. While it's seemingly glamorous and cool, it's mind-numbingly boring and repetitive. Photographically speaking, it's where creativity goes to die. 

The problem lies in never having the room to be creative as a runway photographer. Nowadays, you are supposed to shoot center runway, or you're a loser. Period. Not much room for interesting angles, creative compositions, etc. Even shooting the model in a slightly different composition so as to allow for the inclusion of large additional elements is dangerous, often a no no. 

 

Although I did manage some interesting things back when I didn't know how to shoot runway "properly."


And sometimes, I would choose to shoot "improperly" to break the monotony. 

Occasionally, the runway can be a place for true entertainment and levity, but those occasions are rare, like when a designer decided to take his bow on a Hoverboard™ and then proceeded to fall flat on his face. It was an awesome moment, but there are many, many more moments filled with carpal tunnel-inducing robotic camera operations. 

Yawn. Somebody wake me up when the show's over. 

This season is the first in which I decided to forego runway shooting altogether. The real action -- as I've been saying since 2006 -- is on the street. And I started shooting street at Seoul Fashion Week in 2007, back when SFW organizers were baffled why I was taking pictures of people in the lines to shows. 

March 22, 2008. 

March 22, 2008. 

Since then, my street fashion portraiture game has improved a thousand-fold. I've always preferred fill flash when taking portraits on the streets and eventually became quite good at it. And indeed, the best kind of fill flash is the kind you don't know is there.

Sometimes it's so subtle and slight a difference, no one appreciates you're even using it in portraits. Indeed, it often takes a deft touch and a twitchy finger on the aperture dial. 

But I eventually started preferring more obvious, copius splashes of flash, especially that offered by off-camera strobes on remotes. 

And I soon opted for more non-subtle uses of flash...

And this was the season, this year of 2017, that I decided three things:

1. Street is now more important than runway, not only in SFW, but in the fashion weeks across the world. 
2. Since SFW is even less established than other fashion weeks worldwide, but subject to the same shifts in emphasis from runway to street, slow to fast fashion, haute couture to pret-a-porter, this is why the balance of power has  shifted even more severely in Seoul's case. The New york Times and Vogue have covered SFW in recent years, but with nary a shot of a runway. It's all been the street fashion scene that attracts the world's eye. 
3. It was time to take the street fashion scene here seriously, and not just treat it as "snaps" or an easy afterthought to the main runway events, treating the street like a runway unto itself. So I got a crew of students  to help with major coverage and decided to create a runway-style workflow around street. So I procured me one these:

This thing is the shiznit!

This thing is the shiznit!

And now, I have all the power I need (since you actually need MORE flash power the brighter the scene gets). So, BOOM. 

So, I can do this -- with dramatic blue skies backgrounding cotton candy, white clouds -- with a powerful strobe, but not something small, like a normal flash unit.

The Spring 2017 Seoul Street Fashion Week Team, without whom I could not have gotten so many pictures done:

Suna Choi
KyeongEun Christina Do
Emma Holyst
Linh Nguyen
Koh Huey
Soo-Min Lee
Ji-Eun Park
MinJae Song
Stephanie Won
Cyan Ieng Wai U

And finally, me, Michael Hurt. For more pictures, you can keep up with this articles page and/or follow me at Instagram @kuraeji. 

On Watching the Changes in Korean Fashion and Society

My chamber music instructor always reminded me, "Watch the changes." In key; in tempo; and in dynamics. Otherwise, you lose the music and you get lost. The same is true when one is looking at any society.

As someone who is looking at the big picture -- not just the individual notes and marks on the paper -- I realize that the thing one really must pay attention to are the changes.  If one is looking at clothing and clothing practices as a marker of social change, one also must note the changes. In gender norms; in sartorial practice; in tone and tempo. 

And after living in the Korean provinces in the 1990s then returning to live since 2002 in the capital city of Seoul and deciding to watch and note the changes with my camera, I got to indulge the the hunch that something interesting was afoot here. And roundabout the end of 2006, after having decided to retire my SLR film bodies and go fully digital with my Canon EOS 650d DSLR, I decided to blog these changes as I recorded them with pictures. By 2009, after three years doing street fashion photography pretty much on my own in Seoul, I had published a book called The Seoul Fashion Report, in which I made the following announcement/pronouncement:

 

Pretty bold prognostication, but it pretty much came troo, dinnit?

Pretty bold prognostication, but it pretty much came troo, dinnit?

I hadn't finished my doctoral dissertation yet (and wouldn't until 2014), as i was caught up with photography and the street until that combined into "street fashion" -- and did that for many years, in thrall as I was to what documentary photographer Walker Evans called "the hungry eye." 

Of course, as I track changes in Korean society through fashion, and as the documenting of everyday fashion and shooting folks on the streets has itself become a fashionable thing to do, I have been confused with those who market, consider, and call themselves "street fashion photographers." But the reason I bristle at this moniker lies in the fact that for me, the cloths that people hang from their bodies are not the main items of interest for me, and is actually not what gets my juices going and flowing. 

Which is one reason I purposefully resist and thumb my nose at the new cadre of "street fashion photographers" and those who use that social position and identifier as an additional cache of cool. I think as a photographer who documents social change through sartorial changes, and do not fetishize clothing in the original sense of the term, which is the worshipping of inanimate objects believed to have magical powers -- totems of power not much different from the magical objects and amulets seen in films such as Lord of the Rings. Indeed, the totemic objects of power in modern, consumer societies are largely sartorial, i.e. objects of adornment that follow the prevailing winds of fashion. Much like totems in "primitive" societies, modern totems denote group belonging via brands (such as the LV of Louis Vuitton), identification with a lifestyle (such as with tattoos or piercings), or even the possession of taste or distinction itself (of which the Korean paepi are displaying they are amply possessed).

 

As a photographer and visual sociologist, I am much more interested in clothing as social texts, as specific social statements about the wearer, as opposed to being looked at as mere fashion fetish objects. In short, I am a photographer/sociologist who became interested in what clothing as social text conveys about society; I'm a photographer who became concerned with fashion, not a fashion person who picked up a camera to be cool.

Which is one reason I often -- very often -- choose to take a close look at things that aren't necessarily fashionista-level fashionable but still occur in high frequency for some reason, reasons I'd like to know more about. That is the way I am guided to document trends -- initially not merely by my preferences, but also by what I notice,  as an observer of the streets, occurring in higher levels of statstical frequency. So if girls are wearing socks with sandals all of a sudden and all over Seoul, it's worth recording. 

People often ask why I shoot girls most of the time. The answer is easy, although people often think I'm being flip or facetious. I simply state that fashion, as a field of sartorial concerns, is dominated through and through by female subjectivity. Yet women, in the big picture, are fashion's biggest object. Put more simply, women tend to be those most interested in, concerned with, and objectified by fashion. That being said, the male gaze dominates the fashion field, even if all those who possess the heterosexual "male gaze" are not all male. Or even heterosexual. Again, from the 2009 Seoul Fashion Report:

Put more simply, I am possessed of a strong, heterosexual male gaze, tinged with a good bit of interest in the standard objects of totemic, sexually fetishistic, mainstream, straight male desire. I used to feel quite guilty about this coming through in my photographs and tried to suppress it. However, not only was this hard to do, it was dumb to do, since this fact of my identity and sexual subjectivity still comes through, but just more muffled and distorted -- in a word, dishonest. Denying this just makes for dishonest-feeling photographs, watered down statements, a mumbled and jumbled message. Even shorter, it makes for weak sauce work. So, I decided to stop apologizing for it and trying to deny its existence and do the best, logical thing: harness this heterosexual male gaze to allow it to lead me to best seek and target fashion items that are, as just mentioned, themselves objects of that very male gaze, within a field of social concerns in which women are both main subjects and the object. If fashion items are totemic objects of fetiche, then what better thing to harness than a totem/fetish object-sniffing sexual-sartorial sense? That's my story, anyway., and I'm sticking to it. 

My kind of street fashion portrait.

My kind of street fashion portrait.

This picture defines my style of and approach to street fashion photography: from the ground up, full of the real feels that define not just the motivations of the voyeur but the subject's exhibitionist imperative, of both objectifier and the self-objectified. In the instant of the fashion photographic moment, one should be able to get a feel of the relationship between the subject and photographer, since it's a two-way street. Especially with street fashion, it's not just voyeurism at play -- it's very much about a subject who wants to exhibit, to be exhibited. It's a proud moment for both. In the picture above, Hyeran's prideful pose is metonymic of the pride the entire photographic portrait itself represents for me, the photographer. It sounds complex when stated, but I think that's why this picture works. She knows me and trusts me 1) because I've shot her before and 2) she's looked me up and has seen my long track record with street fashion in Korea , and 3) she is thereby confident that I'm not just taking the picture to get a look up her skirt (on top of the fact that she's been shot enough to know that I know exactly what I'm doing, especially if the key light from the flash is coming from the above, which preserves a nice, necessary shadow that obscures everything under her skirt and which also happens to help obscure under-the-chin rolls). This is why I keep up with Hyeran on social media and watch everything she does in terms of the conscious and unconscious statements she makes in terms of clothing, self-adornment, and gender.

All this is also why my interest in street fashion photography has only grown over time, instead of fading, and why -- with all the interesting things roiling and boiling inside of out of Korean society and popular culture, enabled as it has been by world-connecting social media and the Internet -- Korean street fashion has definitely become something the entire world has started to take a closer look at. And given how fast Korean society changes, there are a lot of things to watch develop, complexify, combine, split, then recombine again, metamorphasize, mutate, and grow into even more fascinating things worth watching. 

On the Saccharine Sweetness of a Seoul Sartorial Street Scene

Indeed, as I like to say these days, we all live in the Etude House, in the truly Dubordian sense. I don't wear pink, or dresses, or even makeup, but we all play by the rules of those who do. We play by the rules of those who place a lot of psychological stock in the objects we choose to represent us, which become our avatars, which become us. In any case, we all now live in a consumer society in which our identities have become literally defined by our consumptive choices. 

An Elucidatively Ethnographic and Slightly Sartorial Consideration of the Foreign Ethnic Enclaves Itaewon and "Haebangchon" on Christmas Eve

제목: “The T100 Fishnets Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve, which is a romantic holiday for young people in their 20s in Korea. We caught this student couple in one of the hottest coffee shops in the area, the T100. The girl is wearing one of the biggest fashion items we saw on the street from last Seoul Fashion Week, wide fishnet stockings, along with the winter miniskirt. 



제목: “SKECHERS Eskimo & Minidress Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve, and we caught this working couple in one of the hottest areas in Itaewon, where a place once full of bars for Americn GIs in years past has now become full of coffee shops and clothing stores, along with many trendy restaurants. 

 

 

제목: “Christmas Girlfriends” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve for young working girls in their 20s, and and not just for couples. Here, 3 students in their early 20s, are having a communal Christmas date, just like many groups of young girls who meet on the holiday to help round out the year with friendship and food. Itaewon has become a place for gendered consumption, led by women in their 20s and 30s — the only Korean men you really see here these days are almost always brought there by women, often their girlfriends. 

 

 

제목: “Christmas Sisters” 
쵤영 장소: Itaewon, Seoul
촬영내용: Itaewon has become the new hot destination for Christmas and Christmas Eve for young working girls in their 20s, and and not just for couples. Here two sisters go out on a “Christmas date” because they claim to have no boyfriends. The sister in red is studying to become a police officer, while the sister with the amazing super-short winter minidress tells us that “it is never too cold to look good.”

 

 

 

제목: “The Le Cafe Girl” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon” is the nickname for the small neighbourhood that was originally a North Korean refugee camp area after the Korean War since it was right next to the US military base. It became a haven for foreign residents, first American GIs looking for cheap, off-base housing, then for the growing ranks of foreign English teachers looking for US-style rent. Now, it’s become a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic thing to eat with their friends. And hence, fashionable people flock here nowadays. we caught this young lady, a fashion designer in her mid-20s outside a local cafe with a trendy, formal miniskirt to die for, along with the trendy black loafers
of the season. 

 

 

제목: “Hackney Girls” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught these two young ladies outside the HACKNEY coffee shop, this is absolutely the most popular one in the area for young, Korean girls in their early 20s. 

 

 


제목: “The Fancy Kobawoo Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught this couple outside the Bonny’s Pizza sports pub/pizza place, which has become the place to experience American foreignness for young Koreans. People definitely dress their best to go here, and this couple was the most dressed up in the line on Christmas Eve, which is a hard competition to win. Interestingly, formal looks can be deceiving — or at least, concealing — he’s a tattoo artist and she’s a fashion design student.

 

 

제목: “The Matching  Bonny's Couple” 
쵤영 장소: Haebangchon, Seoul
촬영내용: “Haebangchon”, as a a trendy destination for young Korean women looking for the next exotic place to go with friends, is now a destination to which fashionable people flock nowadays. We caught this couple outside the Bonny’s Pizza sports pub coffee shop, which has become the place to experience American foreignness for young Koreans. It is also directly across from the most iconic place in Haebangchon, the Kobawoo Supermarket. This young couple in their mid-20s was very Korean and super-matchy in a wintery way — with coats and Adidas shoes. This is absolutely THE thing for Korean couples to do, as it publicly declares their couple status to all who can see, and this was one of the best examples of the winter, on the most romantic day of the year, in one of the most popular places for young people in Seoul these days. 

The Cultural Politics of Short Skirts and the Social Disciplining of Women in Korea

Hyeran poses in a Dim E. Cres skirt, top, and bag for this story. The Korean flag notebook was really just an accident, owned by a nearby student who lent us his books as props for the shot. 

Hyeran poses in a Dim E. Cres skirt, top, and bag for this story. The Korean flag notebook was really just an accident, owned by a nearby student who lent us his books as props for the shot. 

Recently, a public debate on the women, sex, rape, and male power has been ignited, mostly in response to the brutal murder of a young woman in a Gangnam Station area bathroom. But a conversation has been brewing -- nay, brimming over with fear and loathing -- about women's roles and proper place in society, and appropriate behavior and comportment of member's od society's "fairer sex." BUt the conversation has been anything but fair. It never has been, as the social conversation about what women should wear, consume, and do in various social situations is an old and long one. For a long time, the moral pulse of the nationsociety/culture of South Korea could be taken by watching what women buy or don't buy, how they comport themselves in public, by what they wear. This defines a certain kind of "social disciplining" of women that occasionally bubbles over into social rage, scandal, and even violence.

But this is an old story, one that goes back into the deep, dark reaches of Confucian notions of gender and the state, with Confucian idea that the woman's body is a sacred vessel, the literal womb of the people and the state, something which should be regulated and controlled. Hence, women in the Joseon period weren't supposed to leave the house, and if they did, they should be acccompanied and monitored, and had to cover up from face to toe. Sounds pretty Taliban, right? Right. 

This notion of the female body, along with its maintenance, display, and adornment, is where traditionally old-fashioned notions that pooh pooh women engaging in many of the vices of life in which men engage, such as smoking, drinking, and fornicating, tend to come from. But before I get ahead of myself here, let me just clearly establish that I'm not about to engage in that age-old, analytically bereft, lame-ass cop-out that "everything's Confucianism," since that pat reading of the situation is so obvious and easy, without any real critical teeth with which to do anything useful, that to go down that path should be more than what the discerning reader would need to stop reading right here.

The Confucian cultural pattern of thinking in Korea is a chimera that looks real good at first glance, before you realize that what you're looking at is a monstrously complex creature composed of a lot of wildly different, stitched-together parts. Yeah, there's that thing you're looking at, but then again, it isn't what you think it is. When you look at the social disciplining of Korea in the modern, South Korean state, you have to see that the Confucian frame is used as a facile means of control that speaks to very present-moment concerns. That's how it works most of  the time when you hear "Confucianism" invoked in modern Korea.  It's a tool of hegemonic, social control. It's a way of making the dominated think their domination by the dominators to be natural, as much a part of what it means to be, say, Korean as it is for a fish to breathe water, or a bird to take to the air.

I cobbled this montage together from here -- and i'm very glad to see alternate shots of the woman being measured in the infamous 3rd frame. 

I cobbled this montage together from here -- and i'm very glad to see alternate shots of the woman being measured in the infamous 3rd frame. 

This conversation about proper social comportment really came to the forefront of popular Korean consciousness in the 70s, when the Korean police under the popular dictator Pak Chung Hee grabbed young men with long hair in the streets and gave out involuntary, inpromptu Supercuts with Scissors and took young women into the police station to measure their skirts. 

Although men were part of the symbolic acts of social control by the state, it was always much more important to regulate the dress, actions, and general comportment of women. Of course, the rationale is always that women's reproductive role makes them special objects of scrutiny, but then again, this is just one end of a spectrum of regulations and controls on women's bodies. There's always  a social excuse for this. And this gets extended out to everything from tattooing to sexual promiscuity, whether women should drink or not, do certain things in public, or dress in certain ways. 

But let's get down to brass tacks here. what happens to women who flagrantly violate certain social norms here, sometimes ones that society didn't even really know it had? That's when we get to the 2005 of the "dog poop girl."

Source: OhMyNews. Part of the vigilante "fun," themselves. 

Source: OhMyNews. Part of the vigilante "fun," themselves. 

I don't want to get into the gory details, so you should just click away here for a moment, since I'd rather spend my neuronical powers on crunching the issue itself, rather than having to rehash it. But in the end, if you break down what happened back in 2005 to this woman, you have to think about the intense viciousness of the social backlash against her in terms of some obvious facts, as well as a few not-so-obvious ones:

1. She's a "girl." In Korean, an agassi, someone who is unmarried and not yet completed her singular, uterine contribution to society. 
2. She is engaged in a lifestyle choice of leisure -- owning an expensive dog and carrying it around in its own carrier, a glaring symbol of conspicuous consumption in a time (2005) it had certainly not even been a decade or much more since dogs-as-pets were certainly not generally thought of as pets to be kept indoors, but were rather mere dirty animals, yet certainly a step above dogs-as-meat. That in itself was offensive to traditional Korean mores about consumption. And that's just for having the dog in the first place. 
3. Her elevation of a dog over the concerns of her very human elders was a nearly unconscionable act by traditional Korean standards. Refusing to clean up the feces was something that cause most Korean netizens to symbolically banish her from the fold. That's the moment when she became, to crib a great title that has some relevance here, "The Devil in the Shape of a Woman." To indulge myself (and this metaphor) further here, she became the bitch/witch, she played the role of Anne Hutchinson to a tribunal of shocked Puritan elders.

In any case, what "Dog Poop Girl" had in common with the many other cases in which great social anger is directed at individuals who behave in ways that violate social norms so much that they cause social scandal and sensation is the fact that it almost always involves the social transgressions of women.  Social handwringing over the apparent moral decay of society and general societal mores usually revolves around the behavior of women that is seen as a symbol of where things are going, like a social litmus test with women as the active agent. 

It is in this sense that clothing comes into consideration. And the social disciplining of women's sartorial choices often comes from the symbolic values that certain clothing is seen to represent by those controlling the conversation. 

THE UPSHOT
1. Before the runaway phase of consumer capitalism in which Korea presently find itself, women's roles in society were coming into some degree of change in that women were taking on new roles and wearing new clothes, even as society was in the throes of a more existential identity crisis centered around old vs. new, tradition vs. modernity, East vs. West. Then, there was greater concern given to deviation from the old, Joseon-era, neo-Confucian social controls on women which that society had constructed. That is where the impetus behind skirt measuring seemed to come from, in that the miniskirt seemed to signify the influx of western thinking about social freedom, the perversions of feminism, and other threatening aspects of assertive female sexuality. 

2. The more recent handwringing over the meaning of women's consumptive choices in Korea is not new under the sun, but there is a different ideological undertone to it. As Korea has shifted into a different sort of capitalist moment very different from one in which all good citizens simply worked at their jobs, performed their social functions, and asked few questions, the state tried to regulate consumptive choices in the context of helping achieve national goals. What women chose to consume and how they did it only really mattered to the extent that they controlled the wallet of the family. (See Laura Nelson's excellent treatise of this subject Measured Excess: Status, Gender and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea for a deeper discussion of this). But Korean society has again shifted into a higher gear of consumer capitalism, the Age of Conspicuous and Concupiscent Consumption. More than just women's consumptive choices in the aggregate as the financial heads of families, women are participating in the economy at higher rates than in the 70s and 80s and 90s in Korea, are possessed of consumer choice, and are eager and happy to use it in a society that has defined individual consumption and participation in the economy as a positive good.  

Indeed, girls and women are "doing their jobs" as consumers by making choices and participating in the economy. Can't they have fun while doing it? Isn't this what fashion is all about? 

Indeed, girls and women are "doing their jobs" as consumers by making choices and participating in the economy. Can't they have fun while doing it? Isn't this what fashion is all about? 

 

It's very telling that there are few big social conversations or arguments about the consumptive choices of men, the unnecessary and over-powered , expensive cars many drive, or how these are also as concspicuously displaayed as the Prada purses or Manolo Blahnik shoes that Korean women are castigated, as the so-called "dwaenjang-nyeo", for owning. And so it goes with the miniskirt and skirt lengths in the present, which go into the ways many men judge the apparent morality of the individual wearer, as well as the symbolic state moral affairs of "women these days." 

 

The Korean Wave of Plastic Surgery: A Source of Social Power for Women or the Colonization of Women's Bodies?

MODEL: Anonymous    MAKEUP: None/no one BAG AND DRESS: The model herself PHOTO: Michael Hurt

MODEL: Anonymous   
MAKEUP: None/no one
BAG AND DRESS: The model herself
PHOTO: Michael Hurt

For my second installment in the Joongang Sunday, I've taken a break from the writing to partner up with Professor Ingyu Oh of Korea University to co-author a story (Korean title: 한류성형: 여성의 새로운 사회적 힘인가 아니면 여성신체의 종속화인가?) in a different kind of way. Professor Oh wrote the piece as I set up and shot three key images that we planned that extend and convey the argument laid out in text. I'll wait for the Sunday story to come out before translating, but wanted to put up my photographic contribution here. In the first image, we shot a "patient" getting a plastic surgery consultation from a real, reknowned surgeon in his Gangnam clinic.  In the shot below, we brought in a model to help us construct an image that visually conveys the appearance and beauty pressures of many workplaces on women these days, to the point that it has quite literally become a fashion show and a point of stress. 

MODEL: Bo Kyoung Julie KO       MAKEUP: OH Unyoung     BAG AND DRESS: Yang's by YANG Hee Deuk PHOTO: Michael Hurt

MODEL: Bo Kyoung Julie KO      
MAKEUP: OH Unyoung    
BAG AND DRESS: Yang's by YANG Hee Deuk
PHOTO: Michael Hurt

The images are not to be too literal, but rather give an emotional, visual sense of how  this pressure might look and feel. 

MODEL: Bo Kyoung Julie KO        MAKEUP: OH Unyoung     BAG AND DRESS: Yang's by YANG Hee Deuk PHOTO: Michael Hurt

MODEL: Bo Kyoung Julie KO       
MAKEUP: OH Unyoung    
BAG AND DRESS: Yang's by YANG Hee Deuk
PHOTO: Michael Hurt

So look for the full story (in Korean) on newsstands this Sunday! In the Joongang SUNDAY!

Why Street Fashion Is Part of the "Creative Economy" and Will Be the Next Part of the "Korean Wave"

This is a high-resolution scan from the inaugural piece in this series on fashion culture, which was published on Sunday, May 8, 2016. 

This is a high-resolution scan from the inaugural piece in this series on fashion culture, which was published on Sunday, May 8, 2016. 

Preface: My Original Title was "Why Street Fashion Is Sociologically Important", but a lot got changed in the process. A translator -- Korea University professor of Sociology Oh Ingyu --  did the Korean. 

Much to my surprise, I have become known as a street fashion photographer. In my academic work, i have mixed in my photography to call myself a “visual sociologist.” Even though I do a lot of “street fashion photography,” I don not consider myself a fashion person because I am actually not interested in clothing as fashion objects. I am more interested in clothing as wearable cultural texts that are important because clothing, taken as wearable cultural texts, is quite a special thing, a category worthy of special consideration.

Clothing is special in that it is inherently personal in how the wearer makes an active choice to participate in a public, semiotic conversation in which fashion items not only have cultural meaning, but the items themselves are chosen as part of a statement that says something about the wearer. Fashion items are individual objects possessed of various meanings that have been societally assigned to them, much like words within a language, with the wearer choosing to construct these various objects into a greater whole, much like a speaker constructs words s/he learned elsewhere into a sentence. There are grammatical rules that govern the sentences we make, such that they are understandable to other speakers of the language, but we are free to make the statements we want. We can play with the rules, make puns, construct poems, or even choose to obfuscate meaning for rhetorical purposes. And there are myriad styles of speech, some formal, some filled with slang, and some that even purposely violate grammar and usage rules so as to make a certain kind of point. But inevitably, we tend to know what the speaker is trying to say, even if it is unconventional or even sometimes difficult to decipher. And it is sometimes in the violation of these rules, or their reworking or purposeful misapplication, that the fun in language lies.

What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And totake this line of thinking even further, what is even particularly Korean about Korean street fashion, if it's not all particularly Korean material, patterns, or even brand that we are looking at? Does this mean the only true Korean fashion is the traditional hanbok? What is Korean fashion, really? This is the crux of the existential problem with street fashion of any kind, especially if we are looking at fashion as a window towards understanding culture. 

I found this young woman, Gyu-eun, a 3rd-year high school student presently in the final stretch of preparing for the all-important Korean college entrance exam coming up this November 17th, of particular interest this past Seoul Fashion Week (SS 2016) mostly because of her inversion of a basic piece of fashion grammar by her wearing of her shirt backwards. It is a surprising choice, and technically "wrong" (bad fashion grammar), but it works quite well and naturally to the point that I did not consciously notice the choice until I had already decided to start shooting her. Subconsciously, I may have noticed something peculiar, as it may have caused my initial interest in her look, but it was not a conscious reason I chose to photograph her. Her goal of appearing fashionable and unique (despite her having gotten the idea from the fashion pop icon Kim Na Young) was accomplished, but with "bad" fashion grammar. Still, it succinctly and successfully conveys the point, and with a great deal of eloquence that cannot be conveyed with mainstream, "proper" grammar. 

Fashion is sociology-in-motion, is a sartorial text worn and displayed on the body, and is more than just a mode of consumption, but is a social conversation that is even possessed of a discernible grammar. In any case, it is certainly indicative of social change, and especially in Korea's case, a marker of how definitions of gender and the modes of its performance are shifting, how basic social norms are metamorphasizing faster than many people can make sense of. And it is through street fashion photography -- the visual medium -- that one can track the actual markers of these changes in a concrete, presentable way, as raw visual data. 

Therefore, our project looks at Korean street fashion primarily through the lens of sociology and takes up closely looking at Korean fashion not out of any interest in the pieces of cloth themselves, their branding, prices, or their sale, but rather out of interest in considering their importance as social texts, as ways of knowing how identity is constituted, communicated, and consumed, and how this changing discourse marks significant patterns of social and cultural change.

In short, I am interested in fashion objects as part of a greater discourse, a greater social conversation. And in this way, we see the official event of Seoul Fashion Week as important now because of its accidental role in the formation of what we see as far more culturally important: a social institution centered around fashion, what I like to call “Seoul Street Fashion Week.” In fact, my main reason for regularly covering SFW these days is to cover the street fashion. And I am not the only one.  The movers and shakers in this sartorial community are of tantamount importance now, of greater interest to the overseas fashion press than the shows themselves, as recent stories filed about Korean fashionin both the NYT and Vogue USA (both of which completely ignored the runway shows) demonstrate. They’re concerned with the Korean paepi.

In short, the new Korean paepi (패션피플=패피=Korean for "fashion people" or its shortening pae +pi) are engaged in a creative remixing of sartorial grammar on both the individual and group levels.  In this sense, they are being quite creative as they express their individuality in a social space that has been long regulated by not just other members of society, but by even the state itself. The sartorial realm has become both a site of identity assertion and contestation for paepi youth, complicated yet even more by the consumptive and commercial nature of fashion as a social endeavour. 

Their power isn't in each one being the best dresser ever, or being completely original, but in the act of dressing up itself, in the choice to create a new identity related to the consumption and wearing of clothing. From this culture of consumption, they've created a new class of creative consumption, of asserting identity through clothing in a way new to Korean society.

In this sense, the creative act here Like a 1930's jazz musician in a club, or a early 1980's rapper performing at a local block party, it's not just what they're performing, but the social bravery in the performance that sets the paepi apart, that gives the creative act of riffing or remixing meaning. This is the source of a new kind of creativity in Korean society, a real part of a “creative economy” that is completely missed in the idea that creativity can only be found in traditional institutions and hierarchies such as large jaebeol or large, well-funded professional organizations. The next part of the “Korean Wave” will be found in organic, underground cultures such as the so-called “paepi” as opposed to the runway, in dark, dirty, underground hip hop clubs playing “trap music” as opposed to the military-like training regimes of entertainment conglomerates, and in street food stalls that only take cash within a shadow economy, as opposed to the official food campaigns of large companies trying to package Korean food like western fast food franchises. This is not the culture that will sell overseas; in the new Youtube-enabled, reality TV-influenced media culture, people want the Real. They want authenticity. Culture packaged in plastic isn’t going to go far in the future. We need to look at the cultures of the street right in front of our eyes. 

On "Korean Female" Or, the Odiousness and Offensiveness of Mixing the Street Fashion Aesthetic with the Fantasy of Korean High Fashion Advertising

THE PROBLEM
It is an understatement to say that Koreans are obsessively concerned with their nation's image outside of its borders, especially as the White West sees them. The recent tempest-in-a-teapot freakout over Korea's image centers around the alleged insult to Korean women in an ad/art piece for a Dior bag, in this picture. The Korea Herald, with the bombastic title "Dior sparks outrage over photo for 'demeaning Korean women'" and The Korea Times explaining that "Christian Dior apologizes for defamatory ad photo." The most complete story of three i found in English (here's a long list of news articles on it from a Naver search in Korean) is one from the Jakarta Morning post, and is obviously the more complete version of the Korea herald story, which is a bad copy of it. "Culture critic" Jae-geun Ha is quoted and referred to in the KH story incompletely and the JMP really displays the stupidity of the criticism aimed at the image. 

The entire image, uncropped. [Source] 

The entire image, uncropped. [Source

Apparently, "culture critic" Ha Jae-geun (apparently, a prominent blogger and both the "culture critic" and the source of the "outrage" that is "online commenters" since no other sources were cited in the story):

The contrasting image of the Korean woman with Dior’s signature bag in the dark alley implies that she sells herself in bars to possess the luxury good, wrote culture critic Ha Jae-keun on the growing public criticism over the luxury house.

This "culture critic" is obviously a complete and utter, blithering idiot. However, he is cited quite often in both the Korea Herald and the Korea Times. In any case,  here's what people should know about reading cultural texts. One has to read a given cultural text, whether it is a popular song, an advertisement, or a film, in a context, i.e. in terms of all of the things that surround the text, that are material factors in its creation. In order to read levels of subtext, which is the realm in which this entire brouhaha is taking place, one has to look very, very carefully at that text. And in the case of an advertisement operating on the level of art, one has to get into the semiotics of the thing. 

So let's get right into it:

Kristeva defines intertextuality on the basis of two axes: a horizontal one connecting the author and reader of a text and a vertical one connecting the text to other texts.[8] As we become aware of the relationship of one text to another, the influence of different social contexts on the production of these texts comes into focus. The literary word is seen “as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee …and the contemporary or earlier cultural context.”[9] The concept of intertextuality, according to Kristeva, questions the originality of a text, with its layers and echoes of accumulated cultural and literary knowledge, which endlessly build on and influence one another. We, as readers—and certainly as editors—produce the meaning of a text we read as part of an ongoing dialogue with it (and its author) according to its context and subtext, and with other texts to which we have been exposed. [10] [SOURCE]

SO, let's be true thinkers, cultural critics, as it were, and engage in the text, where "the influence of different social contexts on the production [of the text]" come together for easy analysis, if you break it down. And sure, there are myriad ways to read a text, but given that there is a finite range of options in which to reasonably contextualiaze the elements of a given text, we can work towards a reasonable interpretation, given a base set of cultural assumptions/facts and the guiding principle of interests and common sense. 

SPATIAL AND SOCIAL FACTS
First, let's do a bit of basic research to establish a basic fact of this matter, which helps us establish an important piece of context. Using the took of korean, as well as Korean tools (such as the Naver search engine), it is easy to locate this picture in known social and geographic space. So, starting with the most specific and unique search item -- in this case, the 놀이터룸소주방 or "Playground Hostess Bar-style Karaoke Bar", which is, to my knowledge not a chain nor any place I ever heard of -- it took all of 20 seconds and a single attempt to locate this street. Given the same signs (the crooked, yellow tarot/fortune teller's sign, Han's, and the room salon in question) showing up in the Naver Maps shot, along with the yellow sidewalk paint markings and general shape of the sidewalk, it seems like the right place. There are a lot of signs in the Maps shot not in the offending ad shot, but they were taken at completely different angles and times of day (hence, the inflatable signs, which are usually the ones that hawk for prostitution and heavy drinking establishments and partially constitute the the array of offensive signs not extant in the daytime shot of Jungang-ro (Main Street) in the sleepy city of Gwangju). But parts of the shot lead me to suspect that the image was heavily photoshopped, especially since the Jakarta Post called it a "composite photograph," which it obviously is.

Here's where a bit of context (and close textual reading/just paying goddamn attention) comes in handy. As does doing the due diligence on stuff before writing about it. In any case, after a call to the 놀이터룸소주방) and speaaking with the manager, I confirmed a few things: 1) They exist, and 2) do so on that street in a neighborhood called Hwang-geum-dong, which is downtown Gwangju. 3) This is the center of entertainment and nightlife in Gwangju. And most importantly in this analysis, 4) trash bags are indeed never in view unless in the dead of night or the very early morning, which you can see in the Naver Maps image. 

The location: Gwangju, Korea. 광주광역시 동구 중앙로160번길 25-1 

The location: Gwangju, Korea. 광주광역시 동구 중앙로160번길 25-1 

ON GWANGJU
Gwangju ain't a big town. It's korea's 6th-largest city, with around 1.47 million in population, which doesn't tell you much. But if one knows Korea, there's Seoul (the center of all true civilization and light)  and then there's outside of Seoul (otherwise known as the jibang or the countryside/sticks as an American equivalent, and the place where things are backwards/uninternational/unenlightened/rustic/Korean). It says a lot that this street is shinae (downtown), as the manager emphasized on the phone. The image is quite telling in that regard. And also, it's good to note that this is what many smaller streets, even in Seoul's more popular city centers, looked like this decades ago. Surely, it is not lost on attentive Korean viewers that this is shot likely outside of Seoul, in the jibang. That in itself sends the message that this is Old Korea, Rustic Korea. This is most certainly not "Gangnam Style."  It is crucial to note that one reason all sorts of people, interests, and media stories got behind that representation of Korea is because of how it shows a desired/desireable image of Korea, despite its biting socially satirical subtextual messages, of a rich society filled with shiny, plastic women, European sports cars, skyscrapers, subways, and people engaged in heavily classed activities such as yoga, Pilates, and retirees engaged in domestic tourism. The background of the offending Dior picture that is the subject of our present concern is the antithesis of the Gangnam style. It shows Korea at its most country bumpkin, its most embarrassedly antiquate, and its most reprobrately rustic. That's one thing to consider when thinking about the set of obvious contrasts the picture was constructing for the viewer. 

ON THE BACKGROUND
Semiotically speaking, the picture was dealing in several sets of dualities. The first and most obvious was one set up by the huge and obvious separation between the background and foreground. We have to remember that the image was produced in Gwangju, a city that lies a good deal down the peninsula -- about three hours by normal bus or train -- and defined a pretty large and conscious choice to shoot there and not any brightly lit and busy place in any of many bustling locations in Seoul. If the goal was, as suggested by the "culture critic" Ha, simply to show a place filled with places (known only to Koreans or non-Koreans familiar with not just the Korean language, but the culture) of prostitution, then why not shoot a background in any Gangnam Station back alley or in Non-Hyeon-dong, which are two areas filled with colorful signs, streets littered with room salon/hostess girl bar ad cards, and the neon signage to match? One could make the argument that this would inevitably get too crowded with extraneous people and what the photographer wanted was an background devoid of people, which would explain the choice to get out of the capital city. However, given that the image was a heavily photoshopped composite image anyway, one wonders whether extraneous people in the frame would have been been enough of a problem to warrant shooting up a street all the way down in Gwangju. Had the artist shot at a similar time in the morning as he did in Gwangju -- at say, 6 in the morning or thereabouts -- the scene would have been similarly devoid of people, save a few inevitable stragglers. No, I think the photographer was setting up the background as not merely sordid, but rustic as the main sort of contrast to the pretty and shiny, fancily dressed girl holding an expensive Dior bag. Of course, in the small, urban Korean downtown context, sordid and downtown go together (as do populated and entertaining and lively in the first place).

The background is jibang-style distilled into an image. So, in terms of jibang photographic background, we get an interplay between Seoul or sophisticate in the foreground, as marked by her bag (of course), her (by Korean standards) somewhat risqué dress, and equally risqué, surely 10cm/5-inch heels. She's not a normal, everyday woman. She's sartorially and semiotically marked as socially unusual in her obvious, Korean sexuality. An American woman might away with such a dress at a summer deck cocktail party, but Koreans generally 1) do not have decks, and 2) do not have cocktail parties. And 3), yes, in Korea, it is still quite a thing in polite society to show one's shoulders or any bare chest, even without cleavage -- this dress did both. On aa few levels, the background of jibang was the socially opposite of 1) young women (of which there are almost none to be found because of population and other demographic shifts), and 2) attractive, sophisticated young women (which might actually be the basis of a feeling this woman doesn't logically belong here except as one of the few young women who might be down there to do sex work. Still, I don't think that was part of any purposeful subtextual readings intended to be going on in this image (and after all, we are largely talking about intent in this little scandal) that would override the more obvious jibang-sophisticate contrast obviously being set up here. Any-girl-like-this-in-the-jibang-must-be-a-prostitute doesn't strike me as an intended subtextual message here. Still, it might be an unintended subtextual cue-from-social fact at play. I surmise that's the source of a lot of the social consternation, not to mention fear and loathing, directed at this image and artist. 

ON THE LOGIC OF LANGUAGE, SIGNS, AND SIGNAGE
We also have to talk about the Korean language itself here, in a common-sense way. First of all, the signage in question in the Dior image is in Korean. Logically speaking (and there is precious little of that in this little tempest-in-a-teapot), no one outside of Korea could conceibvably read any of the signage in the image, and even if a non-Korean speaker could, would still have to possess some specfic cultural knowledge to even know what the linguistic marker of the "room" is, as a normal karoke place is generally marked as  diferent from a room karaoke place in Korean society. The only people getting some sordid subtext from semiotically sexual signs as evidenced from  actual sexual signage would be literate Koreans (of which there are many, since Korean literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world) or Hangul-reading non-Koreans (of which there are still very, very few)

(this next couple sections were originally written by me here)
ON KOREA'S IMAGE 

POWER, POLITICS, and SADAEJUUI
What I think was really at play here, more than any real, intended subtextual assertions about the sexual mores of the "Korean woman" was an collective, yet individuated anger-as-projection of guilt/shame at a reality Koreans know exists in the figurative background of all that is bright and shiny in Korean culture, which mirrors the fact of the informal or "shadow economy" that still is a big, embarrassing part of the Korean success story even today, in a society in which about 4% of the GDP comes from sex work, more than fishing, mining, and agriculture combined. One might be tempted to say that it ain't just farmers using hoes, but that would, of course, be in very poor taste. 

Image by Michael Hurt. Yongsan red light district, 2006. 

Image by Michael Hurt. Yongsan red light district, 2006. 

Korean culture was that certain key socio-historical frames of thinking were responsible for the extremely warm welcome he was given in a country where most everyday folks and fashion civilians had barely even heard of him. Korea in the modern era and for a good several centuries before it has always been afected by colonial or neo-colonial relationships with vastly more powerful sponsor states. This was true for China, which was never a conqueror or a sovereign over ancient Korea (Joseon), but a suzerain. The first great articulator (and architect) of modern Korean history, Shin Chae-ho, called this relationship (and the lackeyesque attitude/identity it engendered) sa-dae-ju-ui, a four character Chinese term that means "deference to the greater power") "Korea" had enjoyed a mostly beneficial suzerainty relationship with "China" for a huge stretch of historical time by the time imperial Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910 andofficially ended Korea's political independence and forced Korea into a traditional, exploitative colonial  relationship that would last until the Japanese empire's resource needs clashed with that of the United States, causing the ill-fated political decision to "brush back" the US with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a war that would end with the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the Japanese military empire, and suddenly thrust a newly liberated South Korea into the controlling hands of its former vanqquisher's vanquisher. To allow sadaejuui to make sense of all of this, as the greater power changed from China to Japan to the United States, the language of power changed from Chinese to Japanese to English. The race of the Powerful Ones changed, as did the ideologies which justifieda and rationalized their cultural power, and the common sense ways of making sense of the world also changed, from the pure Han Chinese ideal that overlapped quite well with Korean notions of ethnicity and aesthetics, to one that privileged the pure, Sun God Ameterasu-descended, pure Yamato race of Japan, to that of the American notion that "White is Right", since the fact that the racial hierarchy of their new occupiers mattered in how things got done and who got to do them was not lost on Koreans. The fact that few blacks were officers were black and almost all blacks were enlisted men was not lost on Koreans, and even Korean prostitutes knew not to cross the racial lines dictated by their clientele; you either took black guys or white soldiers, not both. Add to this the powerful messages sent by Hollywood films and American television, magazines, and popular music and it makes for quite a heady Cocktail of Western Power. 

The "GLOBAL FETISH"
And yes, Koreans had to imbibe that special cocktail of geopolitical-cultural power, to drink that special flavor of the neo-colonial Kool-Aid. And it was within that general historiopsychological frame of sadaejuui that Korean national deveopment took place, with the concrete assistance and support of the USA (and former colonizer Japan, many Koreans like to conveniently forget), while that development process founf internal validation through external markers. Symbolic GDP levels of 10,000 or 20,000 per capita GDP were important psychological moments for Korea, as were the 1988 Olympics, which was both an impetus and a symbol for Korea becoming modern, or at least, being seen that way. This sadaejuui pattern of thinking backgrounded everything Koreans did on their own, internally, with validation of these efforts coming from the outside, most importantly, the White West, and even more importantly, the USA. So, as the "global" has become more than just a pipe dream and a reality for a Korea with not just a highly developed infrastructure in heavy industry, factory production, and ideologies of anti-Communism that have served the Republic well, but which now has a highly developed popular culture infrastructure in music, film, food, and fashion, there is now a discernible "global fetish" that undergirds and validates Korean cultural projects. The recent "Premium Korea" ad from the CJ group is a perfect case with which to illustrate how sadajuui has evolved into a "global fetish" (a brilliant concept articulated by scholar Kim Hyunjung) that both undergirds and validates all commercial and cultural endeavors in Korea, as well as the Korean national project itself. 

Basically, Korea is a nation so concerned with its national image that the sight of trash pile in the frame of the Dior image is going to start blood boiling -- this is a common reaction to showing too much of Korea's gritty underbelly as opposed to the bright and shiny PR KOREA that CJ likes to package into neat, little plastic facades that flatter the Korean ego. This is why Seoul city made the Avengers production team and Marvel Studios promise to show the city in a positive light, meaning an image of advanced industrial success in metal and glass structures, superhighways filled with shiny, late-model cars, and other nice things™. In the end, the real violation here was that of mixing in the aesthetic of true grit into the literal picture, more than any intended slight about the tendency of Korean to prostitute themselves for designer bags. That connection was mostly the projection of another perceived slight that originates in a deeper, darker place in the Korean psyche, down in the DNA of Korean modern identity itself, down in the depths where sadaejuui still lurks, where Korea's partially unfulfilled will to racial purity expressed as national power and concrete markers such as the GDP and how many Prada (or Dior) bags one can spy on the street. And showing designer bags juxtaposed with trash bags does make the sensitive Korean viewer wonder if the semiotic suggestion might not be that the women are somehow akin to that trash themselves, but I think this to be too literal of a reading. It's just that the trash in the background reminds the viewer of the inconvenient truth of Korean modern development, making the image an artistic representation of how the true grit and dirty moral compromises of development backgrounded the bright and shiny present, how the ability to buy a Dior bag today was very well partially created by the exploitation of female bodies and labor (and yes, that did include sex work), how the shadow economy is intricately bound up (quietly) with the formal one -- which all results in "Korean Woman" standing as a metonym for the contradictions  of Korean society itself. This socially uncomfortable, quietly aggressive assertion of this true work of art masquerading as an unassuming advertisement is responsible for the present, fundamental misreading of the work's meaning and is why the overly-simplistic reading of "it's demeaning Korean women" becomes the easy one, especially given the great deal of potential for polysemic play inherent to such a multilayered and deceptively simple artistic work. 

In short and put simply, people are just reading it wrong and they're rightly picking up on the bat-to-the-knees subtextual roughness of the picture's very palpable social critique. But the work is not simply saying that "Korean women are hoeing for bags" but rather, that all of Korean society has prostituted itself, implied as what we see in the foreground of our reality comes into sharp relief only against the barely hidden piles of dirt and the bags of moral garbage that defines the Gritty Real that undergirds Korean life. 

THE THICK OF THE PLOT
As the first street fashion photographer and blogger in Korea  (shooting what people were wearing, and blogging it since Fall, 2006) and active street photographer since August, 2002, I've been caught up in the attempt to convey through images what it means to be Korean. I have been caught up with issues of identity, the notion of Koreanness, and the meaning of it all since 2002, and very much obsessed with the natio of conveying the Real in Korean culture, which inevitably means the need to express the True Grit of Korean life not just in terms of subject matter, but also an aesthetic of the Real. However, since the Korean sadaejuuii complex is by definition allergic to this aesthetic, it should be little surprise to see a ludicrously high sensitivity to perceived national slights, especially as it occurs in the contested (and contestable) realm of visual representation. I'll just ease into explication by way of starting with History and development.

Now, we come to the point of looking at the short history of Street Photography in South Korea, where the few photographers shooting "street" busied themselves with documenting a post-war, development-era society living in conditions of relative poverty and undergoing massive, rapid social change. 

Choi Min-shik, based in Busan, took some of the most iconic and outright critical images of the era, depicting abject poverty and social destitution in a hard-hitting way that outright stings eve to this day This image, converted into full-motion form, defined a major photographic, visual touchstone in the opening long dolly through the International Market in the film of the same name (in Korean as 국제시장), also known in English as Ode to My Father. This film was a tour-de-force as an extremely rose-tinted exercise in reconstructing nostalgic popular memory through  and on film. This is one of the most important, historically seminal images in Korean history.  

How the Other Half Lives, Korean-style, by Choi Min Shik. A critical gaze worthy of that of Jacob Riis. 

How the Other Half Lives, Korean-style, by Choi Min Shik. A critical gaze worthy of that of Jacob Riis. 

This shot, taken by Jeong Beom-tae, demonstrates, all in a single image, the conflicted and complex emotions that come with living in close quarters to a new, neo-colonial master. 

This is one of the most iconic images of development-era Korea, and was a staple in Korean history textbooks. It is definitely one off the best-know street/documentary photography images in the Korean mind. 

LIM Eun-Shik, "Gu-jik" ("Seeking employment").

LIM Eun-Shik, "Gu-jik" ("Seeking employment").

Fashion Sociology: On Fetishized Femininity

While men still set the rules of a patriarchal power structure in Korean society, it is women who control and dominate the sartorial conversation as it has to do with gender rules, roles, and the nature in which they are performed. Women define the rules of fashion and beauty's semiotic grammar so completely that it is no surprise, at the sartorially serious, extreme end of the spectrum, to see prettified Korean men wearing makeup, feminine colors, and even in this case, white fishnet stockings, and it make a certain kind of sense here. He's not cross dressing, e.g. breaking cisgender role norms. He just looks in place here, i.e. very dressed up for fashion week.

Photographer: Michael Hurt

Photographer: Michael Hurt

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: Spring Sogaeting with Cherry Blossoms

The Golden Mean
Too often, fashion editorials focus on only one extreme of aesthetic reality, namely the tallest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the sexiest -- all statistical outliers. But there's a very large middle range of height, style, and level of social normalcy. So we decided to do a concept on a look that really defines the dead center of a the  relatively conservative Korean women's fashion code. This idea comes from Korean comments that a lot of the paepi fashion and photographs of them are pleasant thought pieces but are so far removed from many people's sartorial and social reality that the subjects don't even seem Korean.

Which is a very Korean thing to say. But there's something to that idea. What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And to  take this line of thinking even further, what is even particularly Korean about Korean street fashion, if it's not all particularly Korean material, patterns, or even brand that we are looking at? Does this mean theonly true Korean fashion is the traditional hanbok? What is Korean fashion, really? This is the crux of the existential problem with street fashion of any kind, especially if we are looking at fashion as a window towards understanding culture. This was exactly the problem when world-reknowned street photographer Scott Schumann visited Seoul several years ago and took some shots of "Korean" street fashion. 

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Power, Politics, and Sadaejuui
What Scott Schumann surely didn't know about Korean culture was that certain key socio-historical frames of thinking were responsible for the extremely warm welcome he was given in a country where most everyday folks and fashion civilians had barely even heard of him. Korea in the modern era and for a good several centuries before it has always been afected by colonial or neo-colonial relationships with vastly more powerful sponsor states. This was true for China, which was never a conqueror or a sovereign over ancient Korea (Joseon), but a suzerain. The first great articulator (and architect) of modern Korean history, Shin Chae-ho, called this relationship (and the lackeyesque attitude/identity it engendered) sa-dae-ju-ui, a four character Chinese term that means "deference to the greater power") "Korea" had enjoyed a mostly beneficial suzerainty relationship with "China" for a huge stretch of historical time by the time imperial Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910 andofficially ended Korea's political independence and forced Korea into a traditional, exploitative colonial  relationship that would last until the Japanese empire's resource needs clashed with that of the United States, causing the ill-fated political decision to "brush back" the US with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a war that would end with the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the Japanese military empire, and suddenly thrust a newly liberated South Korea into the controlling hands of its former vanqquisher's vanquisher. To allow sadaejuui to make sense of all of this, as the greater power changed from China to Japan to the United States, the language of power changed from Chinese to Japanese to English. The race of the Powerful Ones changed, as did the ideologies which justifieda and rationalized their cultural power, and the common sense ways of making sense of the world also changed, from the pure Han Chinese ideal that overlapped quite well with Korean notions of ethnicity and aesthetics, to one that privileged the pure, Sun God Ameterasu-descended, pure Yamato race of Japan, to that of the American notion that "White is Right", since the fact that the racial hierarchy of their new occupiers mattered in how things got done and who got to do themwas not lost on Koreans. The fact that few blacks were officers were black and almost all blacks were enlisted men was not lost on Koreans, and even Korean prostitutes knew not to cross the racial lines dictated by their clientele; you either took black guys or white soldiers, not both. Add to this the powerful messages sent by Hollywood films and American television, magazines, and popular music and it makes for quite a heady Cocktail of Western Power. 

The "Global Fetish"
And yes, Koreans had to imbibe that special cocktail of geopolitical-cultural power, to drink that special flavor of the neo-colonial Kool-Aid. And it was within that general historiopsychological frame of sadaejuui that Korean national deveopment took place, with the concrete assistance and support of the USA (and former colonizer Japan, many Koreans like to conveniently forget), while that development process founf internal validation through external markers. Symbolic GDP levels of 10,000 or 20,000 per capita GDP were important psychological moments for Korea, as were the 1988 Olympics, which was both an impetus and a symbol for Korea becoming modern, or at least, being seen that way. This sadaejuui pattern of thinking backgrounded everything Koreans did on their own, internally, with validation of these efforts coming from the outside, most importantly, the White West, and even more importantly, the USA. So, as the "global" has become more than just a pipe dream and a reality for a Korea with not just a highly developed infrastructure in heavy industry, factory production, and ideologies of anti-Communism that have served the Republic well, but which now has a highly developed popular culture infrastructure in music, film, food, and fashion, there is now a discernible "global fetish" that undergirds and validates Korean cultural projects. The recent "Premium Korea" ad from the CJ group is a perfect case with which to illustrate how sadajuui has evolved into a "global fetish" (a brilliant concept articulated by scholar Kim Hyunjung) that both undergirds and validates all commercial and cultural endeavors in Korea, as well as the Korean national project itself. 

Fashion Control Groups
Hopefully, the way in which Korean street fashion is evolving in relation to the increasing international attention it enjoys should be much clearer, along with the understanding of the cultural context in which Schuman did his first work in Korea, the reception it received, and why. And hopefully, it should be clearer why identifying the KOREA in Korean street fashion photography is increasingly problematic, especially when understood within the context of how the qestion of identifying the specific and the local within a larger entity that is becoming increasingly popular by virtue of its universal appeal -- should be easier to understand. Where is the local in an entity whose popularity mostly comes from its globality? Where is the specific, the Koreanness, within an aesthetic system whose very logic and language is expressed in universal terms? Whhat I find fascinating about understanding culture through fashion in Korea is looking at aspects of Korean fashion culture that have remained essentially unchanged for decades and are largely unaffected by greater global changes in preferences, or even by many more fleeting, specific trends; certain looks and genres of clothing are like the control group in an experiment, the constant, common factor that helps place into sharp relief that thing that you're looking for. If one is concerned with Korean fashion, one has to think about this control group, the pure and unchanging Korean fashion points and what they indicate. 

This look, in it's social innocuousness, its demureness (shoulders MUST be covered!), and its sheer, unabashed femininity, is oh, so Korean.

This look, in it's social innocuousness, its demureness (shoulders MUST be covered!), and its sheer, unabashed femininity, is oh, so Korean.

But there's a quiet charm to the girl waiting on her date under the cherry blossom tree. And it comes through despite even the thick stockings, and real fear of looking improper without something to cover her bare shoulders. Change the angle, you might catch a different nuance to the message that's being conveyed in the communicative act of fashion consumption.

But there's a quiet charm to the girl waiting on her date under the cherry blossom tree. And it comes through despite even the thick stockings, and real fear of looking improper without something to cover her bare shoulders. Change the angle, you might catch a different nuance to the message that's being conveyed in the communicative act of fashion consumption.

So I had the idea to bring the content, and not just the aesthetic, into the realm of the everyday, with the cliched concept of a photo shoot with cherry blossoms, which is something lots of Korean women want to do around this time of year. But with a specific hook. "Sogaeting (blind date) in Spring." A blindingly normal and desperately nice young lady waiting on her blind date partner, who doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon -- Korean dating culture is rife with stories of people who show up to a blind date only to be scoped out and categorically dismissed from a distance, at which point the dastardly date in question does a disappearing act resulting in a no-show from the point-of-view of the hapless, lonely soul who politely waits far past the appointed meeting time. 

Even nice (chakhan) Ji-hyun starts to wonder if something's amiss...

Even nice (chakhan) Ji-hyun starts to wonder if something's amiss...

News of her fate seems positive, as a non-committal message chalks the lateness up to traffic...

News of her fate seems positive, as a non-committal message chalks the lateness up to traffic...

And what might a Korean girl do with all this extra time? Selfie!

And what might a Korean girl do with all this extra time? Selfie!

SELCA (SELf CAmera/"Selfie") by Ji-hyeon (Charlene) KWON

SELCA (SELf CAmera/"Selfie") by Ji-hyeon (Charlene) KWON

charlene_vert02 copy.jpg
Time to kill? Strike a pose!

Time to kill? Strike a pose!

Don't think this guy is coming...

Don't think this guy is coming...

So, one must make the most of a little cherry blossom find in the middle of the city, even iff it has to be enjoyed alone. 

So, one must make the most of a little cherry blossom find in the middle of the city, even iff it has to be enjoyed alone. 

Whutchagunnado? Life gives you lemons, time to serve up some lemonade. Might as well enjoy the moment!

Whutchagunnado? Life gives you lemons, time to serve up some lemonade. Might as well enjoy the moment!

charlene_runway copy.jpg

MODEL: Ji-hyun (Charlene) KWON

STYLING: Ji-hyun (Charlene) KWON (green dress), Saet-byeol HONG (white sweater) Michael Hurt (stockings and shoes)

BRANDS: All clothing were non-brand items.

HAIR AND MAKEUP: Saet-byeol HONG

PHOTO ASSIST: Saet-byeol HONG

LOCATION: A set of benches around a cherry blossom tree outside of Samgakji Station, Exit 11

Korean Street Fashion SELCAtorial: The Sukajan Jacket

The "selfie" has become a ubiquitous part of our smartphone camera-enhanced, Internet-superconnected, instantly shareable, memeable, happy-enough-to-be-Upworthy, socially mediated Hyperreality. While the West thinks it invented the "selfie" with the advent of the Apple smartphone and all its technological progeny, it was actually either in Japan (if you query Japanese sources) or South Korea (if you ask the Koreans, or Samsung), and I know for a fact that Koreans were doing SELCA (SELf-CAmera) as far back as 2004, since I was always taking pictures of them doing it, anywhere and all the time, while Americans and Europeans were still obsessing over their Nokias.

Seoul, circa 2004. 

Seoul, circa 2004. 

I'll just say it outright. Ain't nobody on ERF better than Koreans -- especially Korean women -- at SELCA. If SELCA were an Olympic event, Korean women would dominate that shit more than they do women's archery today. Now, it's tough to explain why Korean women are so good at archery in any reasoned, logically compelling way, but talking about Korean young people and their photographic practices is something that can be reasonably and easily explained. 

Seoul, 2008. 

Seoul, 2008. 

Korean photographic practices amongst youth have developed into a highly developed habitus (in the sociological theory of Bourdieau, a set of skills/habits/abilities that are ingrained and become a skillset that allows for utilization in life as a part of what he calls embodied social capital) after having grown up in an era of Internet, free Photoshop, and ubiquitous cellphone cameras) that developed in a culture of the selfie, as beauty portrait studios, cosplay cafes, and studios have been ubiquitous in korea since the turn of the millennium and that's all true without even getting to the advent of the sticker picture machines coming out of Japan after 1995.

The "sticker picture" is a fixture in the photographic development of Korean youth who now find themselves in their twenties, especially for young women. Beginning with the importation and popularity of large sticker picture booths from Japan after their invention and rise in popularity in 1995.  (Terashita et al, 87) Called purikura (for the Japanese pronunciation of purinto kurabu or "print club")(Simonitch), this photographic practice is as purely Japanese as it is linked to subculture and fashion cultures in Japan (Groom, 194). The photographic practice is still alive and well in Japan, as well as the many countries in Asia, including Korea, where "sticker picture" booths and their offspring are still ubiquitous fixtures of many public venues of consumptive socialization. The influence of sticker picture practices can still be seen in the many smartphone apps of today that allow users to add cute symbols, frames, and designs to their pictures before they are shared on social media networks. 

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

Paepi Yoojin's sticker picture collection, a memento she's kept over the years. 

Paepi Yoojin's sticker picture collection, a memento she's kept over the years. 

This is a record not just of Yoojin's friends, but a record of both her maturity and a cultivated and constructed curated self that is confident in front of the camera and is an ongoing practice of knowing one's "good side" and other falttering poses and angles. 

This is a record not just of Yoojin's friends, but a record of both her maturity and a cultivated and constructed curated self that is confident in front of the camera and is an ongoing practice of knowing one's "good side" and other falttering poses and angles. 

This has been going on since far before the time of millennial Yoojin. This twenty-something woman was availing herself of the beautifying services of "Star Wallet" in 2002, when places where young women got magazine-style headshots of themselves were quite popular. 

This has been going on since far before the time of millennial Yoojin. This twenty-something woman was availing herself of the beautifying services of "Star Wallet" in 2002, when places where young women got magazine-style headshots of themselves were quite popular. 

Ithe "dress cafe," this one being in the Ehwa Women's University area, were places that mixed cosplay with gendered social fantasy. 

Ithe "dress cafe," this one being in the Ehwa Women's University area, were places that mixed cosplay with gendered social fantasy. 

OK -- I think we're all caught up now. Pureé this all this together in a Vitamix set on high and add to that ooze of photographic habitus the smartphone, Cyworld, Facebook, Twitter, and the hope of social network service-enabled Instafame, and you get to Korean girl in 2016 level. And in the hyper-competitive, show-me-the-money-and-results, lookism-on-digital-crack, social environment that is South Korean culture, the best-of-the-best is pretty damn good.

Since I came across model/style figure Seon-woo SONG and thought to myself that she was a paepi with the SELCA chops to feature as a pictorial in a magazine, so that's what I decided to do. I've decided that since she already produces mini-pictorials on fashion items and trends in her own Facebook and Instagram feeds, I'd just let her do what she does best and repackage her stuff in a context that makes it easier to digest if you're not living in their world. We will get to her in a bit. Almost there. 

The first item we are going to look at in Seon-woo's pictorial is the sukajan (SUKA as in the Japanese city Yokosuka and JAN as in the Japanese mispronunciation of a "jumper"-- janpa). This item, of course, has been popular with the cool kids for years, and heavily associated with gangster/tough guys/subculture youth in Japan since forever, but is a thing on Korean streets and runways now. 

The Shemiste show from this past Seoul Fashion Week FW 2016 was rocking both the baseball jacket and sukajan style, with the long sleeve thing going on these days, a thing that is bouncing around the Seoul street as well. Love how they made this jacket a mini-dress.

The Shemiste show from this past Seoul Fashion Week FW 2016 was rocking both the baseball jacket and sukajan style, with the long sleeve thing going on these days, a thing that is bouncing around the Seoul street as well. Love how they made this jacket a mini-dress.

Rocking that baseball/sukajan thing with the white tennis skirt. 

Rocking that baseball/sukajan thing with the white tennis skirt. 

Now, finally, to Seon-woo. I'll start her off with her picture with her in a baseball jacket-style thing, punctuated with a Japanese beverage. Cuz she's about to get all Japanese sukajan on us (even though she noted to me that it's not a "real" one, but one constructed in the bowels of Dongdaemun and sold through one of the private-branded hives there and is a Koreanized version of the look and theme, which generally includes dragons and fire and such things, as opposed to pink love hearts).

Behold -- the Korean-style sukajan, with cute flowers an colors that would do a Korean girl proud. 

Behold -- the Korean-style sukajan, with cute flowers an colors that would do a Korean girl proud. 

It's interesting to see the same sukajan idea done on a shirtdress but with Korean traditional art motifs. And now, it's noticeably girly, not tough-guy. 

It's interesting to see the same sukajan idea done on a shirtdress but with Korean traditional art motifs. And now, it's noticeably girly, not tough-guy. 

I'm gonna finish off this piece with a bit of polish, with the same Korean-style sukajan modeled by our other model, Hajeong KO and shot by Zoomsniper, albeit in a very different style. Here are a couple shots.

It's interesting how a style that (apocryphally) originated with American soldiers stationed in Japan, then Japanese gangsters, then a tough-guy, Japanese counterculture got picked up and Koreanized for female sartorial consumption. 

It's interesting how a style that (apocryphally) originated with American soldiers stationed in Japan, then Japanese gangsters, then a tough-guy, Japanese counterculture got picked up and Koreanized for female sartorial consumption. 

Of course, that means sporting a pink/lavender heart. 

Of course, that means sporting a pink/lavender heart. 

And the Korean version doesn't want to kick you in the teeth, it just wants to let you "love again."

And the Korean version doesn't want to kick you in the teeth, it just wants to let you "love again."

SELCA SUKAJAN MODEL: Seonwoo SONG
SELCA SUKAJAN PHOTOGRAPHER: The model herself
SELCA SUKAJAN MAKEUP/HAIR: The model herself

STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN MODEL: Hajeong KO
STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN PHOTOGRAPHER: Zoomsniper
STREET/STUDIO SUKAJAN MAKEUP/HAIR: The model herself

STREET FASHION SHIRTDRESS MODEL: Gayoung KIM

STICKER PICTURES: Yoojin
 

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: Mom Jeans Shorts

I'm not sure if these are actually a huge trend in Korea yet. Things that get big in Korea are sometimes hit or miss and catch on for pretty random reasons. But if model Hayoung KO and photographer Zoomsniper's street fashion editorial is any indication, prepare your eyes for a lot of oversized "mom" shorts  that will converge with a converging pair of sartorial tendencies on Seoul streets these days, one being high-waisted anything, with the other being an increasingly popular taste for overt and self-conscious normcore looks, which overlap with previous trend tendencies of Korean "boko" or "revival" (read: ironically retro) clothing that was around in Korea far before "normcore" was a thing in the west. What has in the west become seen as an "ironic" wearing of old styles as a new thing has existed in Korea as a sartorial act of nostalgia and a mixing of social and personal moments of innocence in much the same why that Earnst Haeckel famously postulated that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- that the evolutionary history of a species is recapitulated in the embryonic development of each individual organism of that species.

Or one might understand youth fashion culture in Korea in terms of the similar biological concept of neoteny, which postulates that the adult form of an organism takes as its final shape that of an increasingly younger version of that species form, or to make the analogy clearer (and quite possibly, break down completely from this point), the current fashionable form takes on an earlier version of the communal dressed self to define a sort of sartorial neoteny.

In terms of human evolution, this is why our heads in our adult form has been getting larger as we evolve, and why -- although this is obviously meant to taken only half-seriously -- jeans are getting bigger, socks thicker, and waists higher on women, even as Penny Loafers come back into fashion.

NOT ironi in the slightest, from 2007. 

NOT ironi in the slightest, from 2007. 

All of this is being done, in 2009 near Sookmyeong Women's University, without the slightest bit of irony. 

All of this is being done, in 2009 near Sookmyeong Women's University, without the slightest bit of irony. 

But the point here is that, in Korea, none of these retro tastes are really "ironic" in the way the have to be in much of the West in order to come back -- in Korea, it is simply a harkening back to older, bygone forms that carry their own, culturally-specific and loaded connotations of innocence, youth, and nostalgia. And this is where we will let Hayeong and Zoomsniper take the reins, with their quite recent and creative take on the subject, all done without irony. Indeed, to wit: 

The idea of sexually attractive young females willingly prancing around New York City in mom jeans was so unfathomable for Eugenia Williamson that she could only come to one conclusion: The “hipsters” were doing it “ironically.” The truth is that hipsters are extinct, that irony as a lifestyle choice is over, and that the kids these days are sincere. 

This is especially true in Korea, where the so-called "normcore" of the west indeed does not have to happen in the ironic mode, which seem to be the only way nostalgia fashion is understood these days there. Enjoy this well-shot and post-produced piece, which is photographed and edited in a playfully nostalgic style worthy of the model and the clothing.

Editorial Credits and other pertinent information:

Model: Hayoung KO

Photographer: Yangi HYEON, a.k.a. Zoomsniper

Location: Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park in Mangwoo-dong, Seoul. 

Hair: Hayoung KO

Makeup: Hayoung KO

Korean Street Fashion Editorial: The Tennis Skirt

Tennis skirts have been trending on the streets of Seoul for at least a year now, without much sign of abating. SSFW photographer Zoomsniper and model Hayoung KO fill us in with their editorial shoot in the heart of fashionable Hongdae. 

Working in one of the most popular and fashionable street fashion photography locations in Seoul, the little playground in the center of the Hongik University area (known colloquially as Hongdae), model Hayoung KO and photographer Zoomsniper collaborate to document the feel of not just a particular kind of clothing, but the feel of this key neighborhood-to-know that is the kernel of Korea's most reknowned arts/fashion/subculture neighborhood, and universally regarded as the most socially open and free social space in Korea. 

And here's a few alternates, in black, just to balance things out. 

Thanks, Hayoung!

Editorial Credits and other pertinent information:

Model: Hayoung KO

Photographer: Yangi HYEON, a.k.a. Zoomsniper

Location: Hongdae

Hair: Hayoung KO

Makeup: Hayoung KO

White Tennis Skirt: THETIEKINGDOM

Photographic Flaneurie in Seoul, Or Lamentations over the Stillborn Tradition of Street Photography in Korea

Much as modern sociology has strong generative roots in the conflict of modernity and urbanization that sparked the social reform photojournalism of Jacob Riis or Louis Hine, the entire enterprise of sociology itself finds its origins in the socio-historical moment that produced the flaneur and the sociologist. For example, acclaimed documentary/street photographer Choi Min Shik’s photographs of Korea during the age of rapid development in the 1950s and 1960s are part of a discursive, photographic process that defined the visual grammar and fundaments of “Korea,” both during its formative years and in the popular, nostalgic imaginary of the present. The public conversation about development, gender roles, and even the national sense of self itself has been dominated by a visual imaginary which has been utilised by the state to illustrate its ideological agendas, by popular culture text producers to punctuate their narratives, and has been the realm that photographers worked document lived reality. This is the visual, discursive realm that helps define “Korea” to itself. As a non-Korean street photographer since 2002 and the first “street fashion” photographer and blogger (active since 2006), my intention here is to explore issues of ethics in photographic/ethnographic practice in constructing a specific vision of a "lensed Korea" in a society that has a tense and fractured relationship to national identity, gender, personal rights, and photography as a visual medium in Korean society.

Any French person knows full well what a flâneur is. He is an observer of city life, slightly more focused and sociologically-minded than a rubbernecker, a near-professional observer of the street, of life. He was also the harbinger of modernity, the city and the all-consuming crowd, of the masses and their follies, and quickly moved from the open-air streets to the Arcades (indoor shopping malls) of Paris after this modern, Babylonian contrivance was constructed in the 1860s. The flâneur was, according to philosopher Walter Benjamin, the first modern detective, albeit someone who detected for fun more than profit, and tracked down stories and solved the myriad mysteries of the crowd. The flâneur  was a man of means, with the time and resources to not have to work like everyone else, to dedicate oneself to the study of humanity in the city. Of how humanity changes the city. And how humanity is changed by the city. The flâneur , in the original French incarnation, is as old as urbanity, as urbaneness, itself. 

Although to even say so flirts with the sin of cliché, put a camera into a flaneur’s hands and you get a street photographer. And Paris famously yielded both Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, both amongst the word’s most famous street photographers, who were birthed in the cradle of the Metropolis, which was itself -- at least, in Fritz Lang's interpretation, the source of a great deal of ambiguous, uneasy feelings about the nature of modernity and the condition of humanity itself. This tension about the city, identity, and how it all fits into the maw or urbanity continued to be photographed by the likes of Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau in Paris, and Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, and Robert Frank across America, and strongly continued through the work of  Garry Winogrand in New York City., along with many others. 

[ --- end section 1 for DoubleDot Magazine. CUT from here until next section ---]


For thinkers and artists with far less fantastical leanings, however, the relatively new technology (and in no time at all, medium) of photography would be a crucial tool in making sense of urbanity as art. Behold, Eugène Atget's photography of Paris in the early years of the 20th century, a revolutionary document of a disappearing, pre-modern way of life that was rapidly giving way to the New and the Modern. 

Atget documented the changing landscape of his modernizing home, Paris, and was an important street photographer in that he literally photographed streets, along with people, although the limited technology of the time and its slow shutter speeds made for a very different kind of "street" than we think about today, in the post 35mm-film age. But it is important to remember how revolutionary it was to take a large, heavy camera outside of the studio sitting room and point it at the street, at life in the wild. Atget is famous for being one of the first to do this. And it is no mere coincidence that Paris, the birthplace of modernity itself, was the social laboratory in which this could happen. 

let us move forward to more recent understandings of the "street photographer" as a flaneur with a camera, as a photographer candidly documenting life "wie es eigentlich gewesen," to use the words of Ur-historian Leopold von Ranke, a photographer who produces documents of lived, populated, wild reality with fast lenses, small, 35mm camera bodies, and fast film in natural light. And since we started in Paris, the birthplace of photographed nouveau modernité, it makes sense to simply jump right to Henri Cartier-Bresson, a widely-recognized founding father of the genre. 

Cartier-Bresson, another great photographer who developed his style in the petri dish of modern Paris, is usually spoken of in the same breath with his concept of "the decisive moment," which is that singular and special instant in time when all the key elements align in the ideal, optimal way in the frame such that it conveys the full reality the photographer wishes to capture/convey. It is also a key moment of tension between said elements that is transmitted diretly into the mind of the viewer of the photograph. In the years since Cartier-Bresson's heyday in the 1940s-60s, the special quality of that decisive moment, which Cartier-Bresson himself  likened to the sport of hunting (and archery, specifically)has become a fetish object for photographers over the years. 

Before moving away from the Paris of the flaneur and the photographic flaneurs armed with cameras, it would be remiss of me to omit Robert Doisneau as we talk about great, foundational street photographers. 

One of the most iconic images of Paris is the one of two lovers kissing (who were really lovers and whom Doisneau hired as models, a fact which slipped his mind and came to light years later, which led to buzz and rumor that the image had been "faked") -- and indeed, Doisneau's (and many others) images of a Paris that had not yet developed a restrictive legal culture of photographic laws helped construct the image of that city as one of freedom, hedonism, and endless romance, an image that endures to the day. 

Similarly, by the time we encounter Garry Winogrand in  1960s New York City, another petri dish of modernity and cosmopolitanism, the liberal legal restrictions on American photography allow for a certain kind of photographic practice that allowed for the kind of pictures that concretized many of our conceptions of NYC culture that still endure today. 

20160303_C6175_PHOTO_EN_633874.jpg

[--- continue from here for DoubleDot Magazine piece ---]

Winogrand was a frenetic, nearly crazed shooter who famously quipped that "Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed" and when asked about missing shots while reloading film, he famously explained, "There are no photographs while I'm reloading." 

One reason Winogrand is lionized today has to do with his shoot-first-ask-no-questions-at-all, aggressive, in-your-face-and-her-face-and-his-face, shooting style reminiscent of and congruous with the counterculture, take-no-prisoners artistic Zeitgeist of the times, which could be found in the "gonzo journalism" of Hunter S. Thompson or even the brutally honest photoreportage/cultural critique posed by Robert Frank in The Americans. All of this street and doumentary work was enabled by a photographic legal culture in America that still allows pictures to be taken by and of anyone in a public place. And it was this permissiveness around photographic refulations that allowed these observers of societal change and conflict to do their work that helped define the very mental image have of those places at those times. In the European case in general,  and in France specifically, laws surrounding photography have changed drastically, to the point that in most Western European capitals, the street photography that defined them decades ago, of total strangers doing what total strangers do, is illegal today. 

A Kim Ki-chan photo from the 1960s was often full of humor, people, and dogs. Development-era days weren't all so bad.

A Kim Ki-chan photo from the 1960s was often full of humor, people, and dogs. Development-era days weren't all so bad.

Lee Hyeong-rok documented development-era realities that often flowed in beautiful aesthetic patterns.

Lee Hyeong-rok documented development-era realities that often flowed in beautiful aesthetic patterns.

This shot, taken by Jeong Beom-tae, demonstrates, all in a single image, the conflicted and complex emotions that come with living in close quarters to a new, neo-colonial master. 

This shot, taken by Jeong Beom-tae, demonstrates, all in a single image, the conflicted and complex emotions that come with living in close quarters to a new, neo-colonial master. 

Now, we come to the case of South Korea, where the few photographers shooting "street" busied themselves with documenting a post-war, develeopment-era society living in conditions of relative poverty and undergoing massive, rapid social change. 

Choi Min-shik, based in Busan, took some of the most iconic and outright critical images of the era, depicting abject poverty and social destitution in a hard-hitting way that outright stings eve to this day This image, converted into full-motion form, defined a major photographic, visual touchstone in the opening long dolly through the International Market in the film of the same name (in Korean as 국제시장), also known in English as Ode to My Father. This film was a tour-de-force as an extremely rose-tinted exercise in reconstructing nostalgic popular memory through  and on film. This is one of the most important, historically seminal images in Korean history.  

Choi Min-shik, based in Busan, took some of the most iconic and outright critical images of the era, depicting abject poverty and social destitution in a hard-hitting way that outright stings eve to this day This image, converted into full-motion form, defined a major photographic, visual touchstone in the opening long dolly through the International Market in the film of the same name (in Korean as 국제시장), also known in English as Ode to My Father. This film was a tour-de-force as an extremely rose-tinted exercise in reconstructing nostalgic popular memory through  and on film. This is one of the most important, historically seminal images in Korean history.  

Another Choi Min-shik image, which unabashedly calls out the extreme economic disparities already extant in the early days of the Korean republic. 

Another Choi Min-shik image, which unabashedly calls out the extreme economic disparities already extant in the early days of the Korean republic. 

How the Other Half Lives, Korean-style. A critical gaze worth of that of Jacob Riis. 

How the Other Half Lives, Korean-style. A critical gaze worth of that of Jacob Riis. 

A classic Kim-Ki-chan image, one of many he committed to film as he went about documenting the golmok, Seoul's back-alleys, where he identified as the formative space for Korean manners, mores, and the backbone of Korean identity itself. I am strongly of the opinion that one of the reasons Kim Ki-chan receives so much popular, positive historical attention relative to many other photographers active during the 60s and 70s is because his depiction and view of Korean development-era life seems to say, quite simply, "Things were kind of tough at times, but overall, they weren't so bad and it gave our people character." They weren't exactly "good times," but they weren't all that bad, either. 

A classic Kim-Ki-chan image, one of many he committed to film as he went about documenting the golmok, Seoul's back-alleys, where he identified as the formative space for Korean manners, mores, and the backbone of Korean identity itself. I am strongly of the opinion that one of the reasons Kim Ki-chan receives so much popular, positive historical attention relative to many other photographers active during the 60s and 70s is because his depiction and view of Korean development-era life seems to say, quite simply, "Things were kind of tough at times, but overall, they weren't so bad and it gave our people character." They weren't exactly "good times," but they weren't all that bad, either. 

Throughout the development-era year that spanned from the 50s to the 70s, and roughly conincided and were marked by dictatorships and hard times in schools and factories for many people, a period that was also co-terminus witH the Pak Chung Hee regime (1961-1979), photography was largely a pastime of the elite, in a society where many people were much more concerned with where their next meal was coming from than over obtaining and expensive photographic equipment imported from Japan and Germany. That is, until 1980s and 1990s, when a string of high-profile lawsuits over use of prominent social figures' images burst into the public consciousness (in 1982, 1986, 1990, and 1993, generally involving the  commercial use of people's images without their explicit permission) and is where I believe the legal term chosang-kweon ("the legal right to control one's facial image") first began being bandied about by laypeople. 

Ground zero of when one starts to see the term chosang-kweon start popping up in newspapers is 1982.

Ground zero of when one starts to see the term chosang-kweon start popping up in newspapers is 1982.

A political cartoon illustrating a column on the subject of cameras and the public, written in 1982. 

A political cartoon illustrating a column on the subject of cameras and the public, written in 1982. 

By the time a string of cases regarding the right to publish people's faces in newspapers runs its course throughout the 80s and 90s, the term is firmly entrenched in the public consciousness. 

From 한국신문사진론, by 장충종 p. 182.

From 한국신문사진론, by 장충종 p. 182.

But before we go any further, we must first go through a short primer on photographic law in South Korea. To begin with, it is important to understand that in a nominally Confucian society, based as it is on clearly-defined and circumscribed social relationships, one's reputation vis a vis one social role and expectations is everything. This is why lawsuits for damage to one's reputation abound in Korean society. Starting a rumor that harms someone else's reputation is clear grounds for a lawsuit, whether or not the information conveyed is actually true.

According to the Korean Constitution, all citizens have a "right to privacy" that extends in particular to the "right to one's facial image." Violation of that right to privacy vis a vis publishing someone's face without their expressed permission (e.g. a couple sharing an ice cream cone in the park) is understood to be a "violation of the right to one's facial image" (초상권침해). The public has a very heightened awareness of this legal concept, in the same way that Americans are overly conversant in psychological terms such as "co-dependency" or "anal retentiveness" or a person being a "paranoid schizophrenic." But it doesn't mean a lot of people actually know what those things really mean, in the original terms of the field they come from.

Same with Koreans, who generally don't speak in such highly-specific jargon. So, the fact that people refer to this very, very specific legal concept should be a give that most people actually don't know what they're talking about. The right to privacy is a generally-protected legal right, just like the "right to one's facial image." However, the right to sue someone for damages for violation of said right is a part of CIVIL LAW (민법), where you can recoup damages for all kinds of violations to your person. There is no aspect of CRIMINAL LAW (형법) linked to the right to privacy or the right to one's facial image that says it is actually illegal to take someone's picture.

If damage results from the "printing or reproduction" of a picture, then you can be sued in a civil law case. And even there, according to further explications of that particular subject in civil law, the person has to demonstrate actual specific damages that resulted from the picture being printed. That's the key point -- not only must the case be argued in a civil case, there has to be more to it than just the fact you took the picture -- actual, concrete damages have to be shown to have specifically resulted from the picture you took.

So, the mere act of taking the picture of a person on the street without their permission is not yet prohibited by any statute of criminal law that I have been aware of for the better part of a decade.  The only caveat to this is the new 2013 special law against sexual harassment, which places the photographer in a position of danger based on the mental state of the person complaining. So, written into the law is the idea that if the person feels embarrassment or shame from the picture, and the picture is judged to be of a sexual nature by the officer, you might be brought up on charges of sexual harassment, which could mean a pretty hefty fine and even jail time, in theory, although this almost never happens.

Still, all this has placed a decades-long chill in the air regarding photography on the streets and in public places, to the point that most dabbling in photography don't do street or documentary out of a (mostly mistaken) idea that taking people's pictures without permission is illegal, which it has technically become in some limited situations, although the basis for taking apparently illegal picture is quite legally vague and subjectively defined. But this "chill" is what eventually killed the street photography impulse in many a potential street photographer, although the photographic spirit of certain Korean photographic greats such as Kim Ki Chan and Choi Min Shik could never be cowed. There was great Korean street and documentary photography in megacities such as Seoul and Busan, but the misundertood photo laws created a stifling social atmosphere that have kept generations of even the most camera-crazed Koreans from taking pictures of people and have prevented the creation of long-lasting records of culture and history.

I like to think of myself, as a street (and street fashion) as carrying on the tradition of documenting the Real, of reality, in everyday life, with all its rhythms of life. In that I live in Seoul, Korea and work to document "Korea", I am engaaged in a somewhat different project than many other street shooters in cities across the world over the course of the last couple centuries. But then again, my overarching reason to pick up the camera is largely the same. 

Let's begin this sectionwith perfect honesty – upon first glance, Seoul has not always been a pretty nor memorable city. When thinking about the great metropolises of the world – New York, Paris, London, or Rome – certain stock images spring instantly to mind, seemingly out of instinct: the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, or the Colisseum. Or even without structures that overshadow the very cities they hail from, there are entire cityscapes that are just as deeply burned in the world’s imagination, such as is found in the urban wonderland of neon signs and corporate logos that is downtown Tokyo, the stunning architectural wonders defining the skyline of Shanghai, or the quaint charm of the great seaport city of San Francisco.

Still, I do not mean to be too hard on the city, as I am more than able to acknowledge Seoul’s myriad hidden charms, as well as the fact that there are reasons to fall in love with this peculiar, quirky place. Of course, the taste for Seoul is somewhat acquired, requiring a bit of time to build, just as one might first taste a strange but pleasingly complex wine, or sip an extremely dark beer, or take the first bite of an exotic new food that has an unfamiliar initial punch, but follows up with a pleasant aftertaste that lingers and requires another bite to make sense of what was just tried. And it is in such ways that a new affinity for something is born, out of something that initially seemed strange – or to the eyes and palates of others, downright unpleasant.

No, Korea is not "beautiful" or "dynamic" or "the hub of Asia" simply because Koreans want it to be. Things in Korea are also not "beautiful" simply because they are Korean. They happen to be beautiful things that take place in Korea, in a Korean way. The photos I take are mostly universal. They have cultural contexts, but in the end, they say something essential about the human condition. I leave the lauding of the beauty of the hanbok, celebrating celadon pottery, and extolling the virtues of traditional architecture to the people who think these things may attract tourists. Much more than most Koreans think, most foreigners who are here for any significant length of time are not interested in being tourists – indeed, it is quite difficult to be a perpetual tourist. But this is the state in which most Koreans assume foreigners to be – and in a way – is the most comfortable way to think of us. However, foreigners are as perceptive and pick up on the same social cues and signals that Koreans do; it’s just a matter of getting used to the language and the rhythms of everyday life here, instead of there.

What is even more interesting is how the lived experience of the everyday is becoming more and more the same all over the world, making it easier to comprehend Korean culture and life in the city of Seoul. What is particularly Korean – or Seoulike – about waiting in traffic, falling asleep on the subway, waiting in long lines, or dozing off in front of the television? In a way, the similarities between large world cities such as Seoul, Paris, London, and New York homogenize lifestyles enough to make them superficially similar; what becomes actually somewhat more difficult is finding the culturally particular that says something about Korea, life in Seoul, or the feeling of this city’s fast-moving hustle and bustle, frustrating stoppages, and overall dynamicism. The particular uniqueness of the final mix, as opposed to merely the origins of the constituent elements, is where Korean life is inherently, recognizably Korean. 

It's the subtle differences between what is essentially similar that makes "Korea" or "Seoul" all the more comprehensible to us. When we look at Koreans sleeping on the subway, we are not engaging in the "colonial gaze" of the past, when Westerners were looking at Korean peasants in small huts breastfeeding their babies or carrying heavy loads to and fro on their A-frame. We are not gazing at the unfamiliar and alien; we are gazing at an experience with which we are familiar, so familiar that it is the subtle differences that leap out and make the picture interesting. Part of the pleasure of this kind of gaze is recognizing the "us" inside the "them." We smile with wonder as we notice that "they" are not too different from "us." Therein lies the pleasure of recognition in many of my pictures. It is also the reason why both Koreans and non-Koreans can find the common ground to enjoy the same shots. 

Korea's charm, its enticing, enchanting power, lies is the sameness of the everyday experience, which has become a globalized state of being, to the extent that we all drive cars, wear apparently "western" clothes, watch the same films, and eat the same franchised, fast, fried foods. But there is a critical difference in their local manifestations where all the fun lies. 

On the Inestimably Great Importance of Shooting Seoul "Street Fashion" Slow and Proper

As with anything worth declaring aloud and to a wide audience, it is best to just come out with it, in a straightforward manner. Towards this end, that is what I will do here. Put simply, most "street fashion" photographers at SFW who "shoot in natural light" always do so because they really have little other choice, with that decision being bounded mostly by the fact that they do not, in fact, know how to use a flash properly, let alone creatively, and to positive creative effect.

I came into this game as a photographer and academic doing street phototography as social documentary, and then moved in the direction of documenting what women were wearing as a way of looking at changing gender role norms, the performance of gender in the Butlerian sense, and then at items of clothing specifically. So when I do what are essentiall "environmental portraits" that happen to include take up sartorial concerns, I worry first about the background and then how that background is having a conversation with the subject. I worry about context first, the subject's personality second, and the clothing last. And in the big picture, I am trying to capture something about Korean society beyond just the rags hanging on the subject's body. 

Most of the problem with "street fashion" lies, seemingly paradoxically, in the name, in the emphasis on fashion. It also lies in the fact that most street fashion in Korea is done by fashion-oriented people who, quite frankly, don't know the first thing about a camera. To me, that is a bit suspect. I'm not trying to be a dick about this, but if you're a "street fashion photographer," you should know what shutter and aperture do.  You should know what aperture f-stops do in relation to flash brightness. I don't think this is arrogant to say I think it is all quite reasonable fact, a reality for an ostensible professional photographer, of runway, of street, of documentary, of anything. We forget, all too quickly aand easily, in our rush to be Instagram-famous and respected for one's intellectual or artistic prowess, that the root word of professional or say, a professor, is to "profess"-- in essence, to know something well. Here's my problem with "street fashion photography in Korea, cribbed from the top pictures in a Google image search for "ddp street fashion korea."

Some of these have appeared in Vogue, even. Frankly, as a photographer, I am constantly surprised at how low the standards are for street fashion photography. But I am obviously biased and would feel this way as a photographer with an interest beyond just the clothes, but I still fail to see what's interesting about models -- people who've won the genetic lottery and are in the top 1 percentile of desirability and appearance in society -- wearing clothing that is considered the top of the local field in which they find themselves -- I found it hard to believe that the pictures are so damn boooorrrrrring. It's obviously not the model nor the clothing, so what else is there? 

It's lazy "photographers" who are making the same mistake made in the street fashion photography field in 1990s Japan. In that case, too, people fetishized the clothing, which was often incredibly wonderful and whimsical, but yet, in being focused on the clothing only, it's all we remember about Japanese street fashion. No one remembers the photographers, nor much specifically about Japanese society and culture. And there's a reason for this. It was, in the aggregate and retrospect, a mindless act of slavishly recording pieces of cloth on random human bodies. Amateur street fashion photographers in Korea -- and especially at Seoul Fashion Week since around 2013 -- seem to be engaged in this slavish documentation style of photography. In fact, it would be safe to say that the same thing is happening to street fashion photography as happened to fashion show photography, since there was a major change from the style of small, intimate affairs for a select group of people who had no idea what they were about to see and the photographers who documented the clothing there according to myriad, individual photographic styles, to the present, mechanical style of runway photography in an age of a corporatized fashion industry and the photographers who shoot in its service, with little room for photographic expression and whose main photographic imperative is that of unvaried, robotic consistency for lookbook editors who want each leg at the same angle, an unvarying consistency in lighting, et cetera

Guy Marineau for CHristian Dior in 1998.

Guy Marineau for CHristian Dior in 1998.

An Lie Sang Bong show from Getty Images in 2015. 

An Lie Sang Bong show from Getty Images in 2015. 

Something similar is happening in "street fashion" photography, which is so much about the fashion that it has forgotten that it really isn't done in the street anymore, in any real sense. In the case of SFW, it is telling that this simple and obvious fact is forgotten about as photographers run out to "do street" in a Dongdaemun Design Plaza area that is as far removed from street as imaginable, the "street fashion runway" being a concrete area nestled deep within the complex itself, surrounded is a sea of featureless concrete and steel walls, with only a small window of sky even visible. to provide "natural light." It is just about the worst place imaginable to shoot real, lived culture in the original sense of the "street" that one can imagine. Essentially, the DDP is a hermetically sealed, culturally sterilized zone of spatial homogeneity. Which is exactly why it has become so popular with Korean amateur street fashion photographers, especially in the age of hallyu. This is because hallyu itself privileges cultural commercialization that presents "culture" in hermetically sealed, sterile, semiotically homogenous, stylistically pasteurized packaging that allows for ease and consistency in production, packaging, and even (perhaps especially) its final, finished form. This seems to be why the DDP lower entrance area has become a place popular for "street" fashion photography that isn't anywhere close to the street. This fact reflects a very Korean way of handling cultural packaging and presenting itself to the outside world. Just as with most hallyu cultural products, both the process of production and the final product must be finely and minutely controlled, with almost no room for error, and unfortunately individual creative expression. Because to insert one's on style on the product requires veering dangerously off a safe, well-traveled course, which is uncomfortable and requires a specific confidence enough to do so at least, but also the technical skills to do so as well, which are often quite lacking in the kind of photographer who is not only perfectly comfortable shooting what everyone else is shooting, but actually prefers to do so. 

It nearly goes without saying that I will be comparing the uninspired and mechanical style of street fashion photography in the DDP concrete studio negatively against my own. 

This image is interesting on several levels. First, because girl is wearing her shirt backwards. And second because it totally works. And third, it's fascinating that a Korean 2nd year high school girl is so STUDIED a omin her command of media representat

That being said, my assertion here is not that I am the best street fashion photographer ever, but simply that I am an actual photographer, possessed of the technical skills and inclination to turn random people I meet on the street and the environments in which I find them into powerful images with palpable visual impact and are full of style – a style, my own, in particular – to the point that anyone can look at one of my photographs and say "John Smith took that." Or, "That is defineitely a John Smith picture." That should be the goal of any photographer engaged in real artistic production. And if street fashion photography is indeed an artistic endeavor to any extent, with photographers engaged in it calling themselves professionals with picture that are their signature, one look at a picture should invoke the photographer's name. If you can't do that, you're not doing your job as a photographer. Also, if one looks at an image and can't identify the location (especially in something called "Korean street fashion"), what's the point. Good street photography should be an equal balance of the street (environment) and the photograph (the subject and clothing) in relation to one another. It's what's called an "environmental portrait", after all, and is an old, established genre of portrait. Photographers – doing street fashion, documentary, formal portraiture, whatever – should at least know these basic things. Because it's not just about the clothing and who's wearing them. Because fashion isn't just about clothing; fashion is part of a larger conversation, it is a cultural text, it is about social norms and value, social structures, all in the big picture, defined as what we call culture. If you can't see all that in a street fashion picture taken in Korea, something major is missing. 

Keep boing into sitting girls I think are like some kinda somebody, like some highfalutin', rootin' tootin' high roller, but it turns out to be a high school student who knows how to dress tack sharp and come bask in the fashion Sunshine at SFW. SHE's a f
"This is how we Duier it..."

Since the "street" at SFW has essentially been turned into a runway, there isn't much photographic variation or real, long-lasting creativity. This lack of longevity in the street fashion photography field does not bode well for the prospects of Korean fashion, in the end. And it should be of concern to professional photographers who take either their own creative prospects or the promotion of Korean culture as a central concern in their work. 

This is not what we want, street photography turned into a runway, separated from the street, done out of convenience and to bolster one own's sense of authority as a photographer. In my case, at any rate, this isn't the kind of photography I want to be hemmed into doing. 

Because real street is in the street, not locked in a concrete shooting gallery below ground. And it needs to say something, has to have VISUAL PUNCH

Sometimes people say my pictures are too pregnant with an obvious male gaze. I don't disagree with that. I just don't deny that it's there and I use it to connect with those possessed of a desire to be gazed at. And if one is interested in constructions o

If you're not actually in the street, in culture, in context, and talking beyond just the broader boundaries of mere clothing, you're not saying much that will be remembered after the season is over. And even in within the boundaries of the concrete DDP complex, one can still shoot interestingly:

Keep boing into sitting girls I think are like some kinda somebody, like some highfalutin', rootin' tootin' high roller, but it turns out to be a high school student who knows how to dress tack sharp and come bask in the fashion Sunshine at SFW. SHE's a f

In this age of carefully cultivated and curated identities, politically correct trepidation, the digital discount that the ease and speed of photographic production produces in the value of images themselves, not to mention the commercial incentive to please the most people and get the most "LIKES", along with the mechanization of the productive processes themselves, there isn't much room left for a truly distinctive photographic style anymore, as contradictory as that may sound in a field that deals with fashion. But that's where this all has brought us. Still, any effort to keep things real, especially when looking at fashion items, must be protected. After all, what's the best way to deal with an outfit in which socks and sandals are the main point of the look? You focused on what's important, even as you try to present an aspect of the subject's character and personality in context. And sometimes, this means taking a photographic subject "off the grid" and away from the maddening crowd, lowering the camera to a crazy angle, and letting the shutter fly. And you end up letting an ongoing conversation between colors, character, and composition make a picture pop off the screen. 

Repeat customer this season, Hyeran from yesterday was rockin Dim e Cres to three favorite show that day, the high fashion version of the street brand. Cres E. Dim.  She is quite the fashion trooper. And quite a model. She was deserving of the red carpet