street fashion

On Watching the Changes in Korean Fashion and Society

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

My  kind of street fashion portrait.

My kind of street fashion portrait.

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

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

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

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



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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 


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

 

 

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

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!

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MODEL: Ji-hyun (Charlene) KWON

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

BRANDS: All clothing were non-brand items.

HAIR AND MAKEUP: Saet-byeol HONG

PHOTO ASSIST: Saet-byeol HONG

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

Korean Street Fashion SELCAtorial: The Sukajan Jacket

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

Seoul, circa 2004. 

Seoul, circa 2004. 

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

Seoul, 2008. 

Seoul, 2008. 

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

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

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

Diagram of the first sticker picture machine in 1995. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STREET FASHION SHIRTDRESS MODEL: Gayoung KIM

STICKER PICTURES: Yoojin
 

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