Excursion into art by the elite photobugs of fashion

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Excursion into art by the elite photobugs of fashion

It’s all about glamour, sex appeal, beauty and money ― an obscene amount of money to buy that latest cocktail dress, still hot from the spotlight on the runway. That sense of urgency, if not insecurity, to shop spreads like a pandemic, particularly through those alluring images created by fashion photographers. It would be an irony if fashion photographers, who have amassed fame and fortune by selling images de riguer, declare one day that they really wanted to pursue fine art.
The exhibition “Fashion & Passion,” currently showing at The Columns Art Center, newly opened in southern Seoul, exposes the true desires of 20 highly commercial fashion photographers and members in good standing of the Korea Fashion Photographers Association. Since its establishment in 1994, the group has organized a yearly exhibition to showcase the other side of their creativity, and not their cutting-edge images that live inside glossy fashion magazines.
To show off their status (sky-high, of course) and their degree of trendiness (white-hot, naturally) in the fiercely competitive industry, magazine editors, stylists, models and celebrities alike namedrop photographers like Cho Nam-ryong, Kim Jung-man, Zo Sun-hi and K.T. Kim.
The collection of 40 photographs that fills the spacious halls of the art center are far from the works bought dearly by fashion houses and publishers. Unlike editorial spreads or commercials featuring the most-talked-about stars shot on elaborate sets, most of these works depict the photographers’ private moments, devoid of artificial constructs. Some are nearly abstract forms, comparable to paintings by Mark Rothko.
At the exhibition, the characteristically color-infused images by the photographer Yoon Jun-seob were replaced by somber black and white; two of his works, “Havana” (2003) and “Untitled” (2003) capture idyllic afternoons in Havana. The celebrity photographer Cho Nam-ryong, known for taking picture of Korea’s celestial bodies, submitted one image that is closer to visual poetry. The work, “Untitled,” is a hazy cityscape of Seoul seen through a window pane dotted with rain drops.
Han Hong-il, the president of the association, regularly works on fashion editorials for the Korean editions of “Vogue,” “Bazaar,” “Elle” and “Marie Claire,” but his personal interest lies in architecture from the early 20th century, particularly the colonial architecture of Korea, which is fast disappearing from the landscape.
“For personal reasons, I visit the large greenhouse inside Changyeong Palace and take pictures of a segment of a once blooming era of Korean architecture in the 1920s, although it was built by the Japanese,” he said, pointing to his photo “Glass & White” taken in 2003.
“When I’m not doing fashion photography, I try to move away from objects and see the entire space as a whole,” he commented, adding that those who are familiar with his magazine work can somehow recognize his non-fashion art photography. “That’s entirely unintentional, but I guess commercial and artistic images have some connections,” he said.
Fashion visuals often follow market trends, Mr. Hong suggests. However, the tendency of contemporary photography, as shown in the exhibition, is becoming notably minimalist, as the value of minimalist photography on the modern art scene rises. “Modern artists have utilized photography in the [art] market, and it is also preferred by collectors,” he said. “Works [at the exhibit] this year look like lumps of colors, and images by Andreas Gursky, who represent this style, are, I can say, ‘trendy’ now.”

by Ines Cho

The exhibition “Fashion Passion” at The Columns Art Center runs until Saturday. The Columns Art Center is located in the basement of the Avenue Juno building at 63-14 Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. The center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Sundays. The nearest subway station is Cheongdam, line no. 7, exit 9. For more information, call (02) 3442-6301 or visit www.columns.co.kr.
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