Images From a Photographer Playing His Own BeatWhen working on fashion photography, Kim Woo-young is a jazz musician. He uses his camera as if playing a musical instrument in a band, letting the models lead him with their instinct. The less confident models are soon stuck in frustrating indecisiveness, lost, but Kim is relentless, he never stops moving. He obviously minds the slightest disruption. He expects his subject to play along and improvise so there is an interplay between them. Through the piercing camera lens, without words, Kim communicates with the consciousness. The symbiosis exhilarates, unleashing the model's instinct and spontaneity. When in print the image flows across the page.
His fashion photographs are urban, melancholy and lyrical. The models are usually youthful, beautiful and portrayed as happy, but there seems to be an attempt to shield from the camera's gaze an unspoken sadness. Even images taken in broad, sun-splashed daylight eerily give the impression of impending rain.
The attempt to express his sensibilities is evident through not only his commercial projects but in his non-commercial art. Kim, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York and a winner of the bronze prize at New York Ad Festivals in 1998, is now a major trendsetter in Korean photography, yet he has never ceased to explore his subjects in the form of pure art. His latest exhibition, his sixth, is titled "Kim Woo Young: Just Here." It is on show at Galerie Bhak (a prestigious art gallery located in the moneyed district of Cheongdam-dong) and demonstrates the continuous attention he pays to his development as an artist.
The works shown this time are different in form from his past creations. The images are not "straight" photographs; they are closer to a new form of visual expression: vivid color photographs superimposed with black and white images printed on acrylic boards, employing the silk screen technique. The introduction of these dual images as new mediums not only forces the viewer to acknowledge the role of the camera but is also a liberation from "framed" thinking. Upon viewing his non-commercial works, the photographer Abby Robinson said that one is struck with beauty and harmony of their components, the sensuousness of color and the graceful interplay of form.
Formerly trained as an architect, Kim specializes in photographs of city life. He depicts artificially an evolving environment that is not exactly beautiful, but rather has more to do with a reality that is neither too outspoken nor violent. His images contain naturalistic elements that are explored not in static snapshots but in dreamlike, overlapping sequences.
This is Kim's artistic rendition of imagery. Particularly with objects, he photographs like a meticulous jazz pianist in the middle of an improvisation: laying out each part, examining its characteristics and functions, creating his own language by deconstructing his imagery. According to Charles H. Traub, the chairman of the Department of Photography at the School of Visual Arts, he saw an "Eastern sensibility . . . blended with the strategies and the currents of the post-modern Western artist who is self-conscious in his deliberate deconstruction of the imagery."
It is easy to assume that destructiveness is the overall mood of this photographer. Yet, however deliberate it may seem, Kim successfully distances himself from his subjects and environment and puts together astoundingly elegant photographs in the form of imaginary art.
He lets himself go with the infinite flow of sentiment within his melancholic landscape. When left alone, he is safe to indulge freely, with abandon. And only freedom can allow him to explore why he dissects his subjects and juxtaposes them in his world. His world may be somewhat obscure and not well defined, but that is even more of a reason to enter it.
The exhibition "Just Here" runs until Sunday. For more information, call 02-544-8481~2 (Korean service only).
by Inēs Cho