Street Fashion Portrait Consent/CONCEPT/Contact card -- 거리 패션 초상화 동의서/컨셉/연락처 카드드)

Who I Am and What I Do - 저는 누구이며 무엇을 하나요?

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.
이 페이지는 1) 제가 누구이며 2) 제가 오늘 거리에서 당신의 사진을 찍음으로써 우리가 무엇을 하는지를 설명하기 위해 고안되었습니다.

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. 

일단 저는 한국에서 가장 오랫동안 일해온 거래 패션 사진가이자 블로거입니다. 저는 2002년 8월부터 서울에서 street photography (거리 사진술) 을 해왔고, 2006년 말에 한국의 첫  패션 블로그를 시작하면서 street fashion (거리 패션)으로 업종을 바꾸었습니다. 그러다가 2007년 말에는SETEC에서 열리는 서울 패션 위크와 서울패션 아티스트 협의회 (SFAA)의 쇼를 보도하면서 순전한 street fashion portraiture (거리 패션 초상화법)으로 방향을 바꾸었습니다. (made into new sentence) 그 당시에는 국적을 막론하고 꾸준하고 활발하게, 거리에서 무작위하게 고른 대상을 찍는 거리 패션 (초상화) 사진작가는 저뿐이었습니다.

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.  My pictures can be followed on Instagram under the ID kuraeji, with Facebook ID: metropolitician

저는 마이클 허트라고하며 대한민국 서울에서 살고 있는 사진작가이자 교수입니다. UC Berkeley에서 비교인종학 박사학위를 땄으며, 2006년 한국 최초의 스트릿 패션 블로그를 개설하였습니다. 연세대학교 교수로 한류 마케팅과 시각 사회학을 가르칩니다. 저는 2006년부터 서울의 거리에서 스트릿 패션을 취재하였으며 2007년부터는 서울 패션 위크에서 스트릿 패피에도  집중하였습니다.


저에 대한 더 많은 정보는 구글(영어)이나 네이버(한국어)에서 찾으실 수 있습니다. 저는 미국의 Huffington Post를 위해 한국의 스트릿 패션에 대해 집필하거나 취재하며,  CNN Travel을 위해 한국의 패션에 대한 특집 기사들을 쓴 경험도 있습니다. 또한, 네이버 포스트에 한국어로 특집 기사를 쓴 적이 있으며  제 작품들은 동아일보나 중앙Sunday과 같은 곳에 노출이 됩니다. 저의 작품들은 인스타그램 (아이디:kuraeji) 이나 페이스북 (아이디: metropolitician)을 통해서 만나보실 수 있습니다. 

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:

사진을 위해 이 텍스트를 핸드폰 화면 중앙에 비치하신 후, 연락처가 적혀있는 화이트보드와 함께 들어올려주세요):

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

본인은 이 사진이 찍히는 것과 
이가 여러 매개체에 게재되는 것에 
동의하는 바입니다.

 

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!

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. 

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. 

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

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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!

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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
 

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. 

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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. 

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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.