Less than perfect, but alluring

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Less than perfect, but alluring

In the world of commercial photography, especially advertising and fashion, images are carefully chosen for a commercial purpose. The select photographs that are seen by the public are called “A-cuts.”
The rest of the images ― photos taken by the photographer for himself or for no one in particular, or the images that didn’t quite meet the demands of commerce ― are called “B-cuts.”
Just as movie fans are fascinated by behind-the-scenes filmmaking stories, viewers of fashion photos are often curious about what went on in the minds of the photographers, or about what images might have been left in the studio. Such curiosity on the part of Min Byung-jic, the new curator of Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in northern Seoul, culminated in his first exhibition there: “Fashion Photography: Seeing Through B-Cuts.”
The exhibition, which runs until Jan. 16, features photographs of many styles, personal favorites of eight top Korean fashion photographers that haven’t been seen by the public before now. Kim Woo-young, Park Kyung-il, Kim Sang-gon, Byun Soon-choel, Yang Hyun-moh, Han Hong-il, Kim Hyeon-seong and Kim Dong-yul are the photographers whose work is on display.
The museum’s two spacious floors are divided into works by each photographer, featuring photographs of fashion models and celebrities. For many viewers, they will repeatedly raise the same question: Why didn’t this beautiful image make it?
In effect, these images from the photographers’ personal archives offer something of a voyeuristic pleasure while stimulating the imagination.
There are variations on familiar images that have appeared in fashion magazines and ads. There are images of models at play, and impromptu or experimental shots of an object or model that reflect the photographer’s personal instinct at the time. Then there is a large collection of Polaroid shots collected from commercial productions.
In these photographs, the object of desire is not exactly “perfect” in the way that a finished commercial photograph might be. It is precisely that less-than-perfect element that provokes thought.
In Park Kyung-il’s photographs, a fashion model hired for the day was being herself, not paying attention to the camera; the photographer saw something in her and got to work. Byun Soon-choel’s images of nearly nude models on a forlorn beach capture some weirdly awkward moments.
Kim Woo-young’s lyrical black-and-white images of Korean pop stars are all too beautiful, but are marked with notes like “Need to adjust the tone!” and “Darken the backdrop, brighten up the detail of the clothes.”
The curator planted notes around the exhibition to explain why the photographs were B-cuts. “I saw that there were a few categories in these B-cut images. They were not selected because they didn’t serve their purpose ― to sell,” Mr. Min explained. “For example, pictures that are too sexually provocative or that do not show the details of the clothes won’t sell the product. So they were rejected.”
It is precisely that compelling sense of rejection, in the context of the glamorous world of fashion, that makes these photographers’ B-cuts all the more fascinating.


by Ines Cho

The exhibition runs until Jan. 16. Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, near Gwanghwamun, is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily except Mondays. Visit the museum’s Web site (www.daelimmuseum.org) or call (02) 720-0667.
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