Seoul's Hyperreality, Street Fashion Culture and "Flexible Sociality" as Amplified by the Parametric Multi-modality of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza

An Alien, Parametric Space

Before 2012, the creation and construction of the DDP complex was heavily (and correctly) criticized as a project as motivated purely out of the desire to construct an object of Dubordian Spectacle. (Yun) However, the proof in the theorital pudding that was the DDP megastructure  project, as the prototype and proving ground for Zaha Hadid's heavily theoretical and aspirational new conception of "Parametricism 2.0" (Schumacher), would be found in the burgeoning street fashion culture that was the result of several aspects of Seoul's unique infrastructural and cultural backdrop. Firstly, the burgeoning street fashion culture was clustered (and limited by) the rigidity of a Seoul Fashion Week event that was housed mostly at SETEC and other places, when the so-called paepi could barely find form as a nigh-subculture. The paepi, while SFW was at SETEC, were literal outsiders to the formal fashion field. But when SFW became permanently housed at DDP,  the "multi-modality" (Schumacher) enabled by its Parametricist features allowed the nascent paepi subculture to explode like gasoline thrown onto an open flame when the DDP opened in 2012. When analyzed against the fact of Seoul's already extant "flexible sociality" (Cho), the DDP ended up being a perfect fit with the city of Seoul and its urban(e) cultures, especially as it became both a spatial link to and staging ground for the cultural manifestations of the  industrial infrastructures of the Dongdaemun textile complex. The flowering of the paepi is only the first success case and example, and only the initial fruit of the fortuitous convergence of Seoul's inherent flexible sociality and the multi-modality of the space inside, outside, within, and around the DDP. (277 words)

KEYWORDS: DDP, paepi, street fashion, Dongdaemun, flexible sociality, Parametricism, Seoul Fashion Week

 

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 was the first "street fashion" photographer in Korea, with a body of work of clothing-oriented ethnographic portraiture that stretches back to 2006, shooting Seoul Fashion Week "paepi" (플) since late 2007. So, I've been doing ethnographic research on the paepi for more than a decade and was already documenting them when their culture exploded with the opening of the DDP in 2012. Before that, their socio-sartorial energy was relegated to the periphery of the fashion field, and literally and figuratively speaking, to the parking lot of the socio-spatial map of the fashion field as symbolised during important events such as Seoul Fashion Week.

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 structure itself set the tone for a new kind of social/sartorial culture, bounded spatially by the “alien” structure of the "spaceship" and temporally by the SFW event itself. In short, the conditions of the fashion field shifted, as the DDP helped the paepi rewrite their position on the map of the fashion field even as the paepi changed the very meaning and relative position/power of the main players in that field – high fashion designers and their runway shows – and it is my contention that the relative positions of those formerly at the top and bottom of the field in terms of position and power, high fashion designers on the deep inside and the paepi street fashion “kids” at the periphery, has switched completely. The paepi, helped by the alien spatiality of the DDP, have flipped the field. 

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 around 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 indicated 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 – a place where Seoul’s “flexible sociality” was amplified by the building’s “multi-modal” design imperative. 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. 

The flowering of the practice of street fashion photography at DDP is elegant "proof" of the intended concepts behind the building's construction. 

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 Aesthetic of Seoul's Hyperreality

As a photographer, I had the goal of creating a lookbook (done in tandem with Korea Fashion News/섬유신문) 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. Surreal affect. A "flashy," commercial, unreal 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 designedas the pinnacle of Parametricism, a design principle thatcan 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 designedas the pinnacle of Parametricism, a design principle thatcan 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 

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: Détournement of Spectacle in Dongdaemun Design Park  Plaza in Seoul.” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 13 (1): 17–24. doi:10.3130/jaabe.13.17.

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.

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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.

 

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." 

 

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 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

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