Dong Yoon Kim
Dong Yoon Kim, is a young contemporary fine art Korean London-based photographer, represented by the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. Contemporary fine art photography continues to expand in its variety of style, as it interacts with the rest of the contemporary fine art market and conceptual underpinnings often drive the direction of new work. Dong Yoon Kim’s focus is memory, particularly its loss and uncertainty. He believes that people living in today’s excessively globalised and fast-paced society struggle to remember and account for all the events and experiences of their lives. They are constantly bombarded with information and novelty and are exposed to multiple cultures, and consequentially have trouble in defining their own identity. His work is concerned with state-of-mind, questioning what we have forgotten and what is missing while living in this over-competitive society. He tries to trace and dig out memories that can be shared with others, and does so by selecting specific subjects within urban landscapes to photograph and attempting to bring some of their history to the surface. The results are often confusing and unclear, as are our memories. The blurred layering in his images is Dong Yoon Kim’s way of emphasizing this state-of-mind. He has recently exhibited in a Korean Artists’ group exhibition at Saatchi Gallery (July-September 2012) and at the Fresh Faced and Wild Eyed 2010 finalist group exhibit at The Photographer’s Gallery, both in London, and has his work in several private collections.
MF: Firstly, could you tell me a little bit about your background?
DYK: I was born in Seoul and studied Computer Science for my bachelor’s degree. After working as a Systems Engineer for several years, I moved to London in 2006 and have been based here since.
MF: How did you get started in photography and why?
DYK: I happened to find my father’s old Nikon in my early twenties and began to photograph the city as a hobby, fascinated and inspired by black and white prints and images purposely out-of-focus. I started taking photography more seriously when a friend gave me a book, Dorchester Days, by Eugene Richards as a gift. I was captivated by his close approach towards the subjects. In the 90’s, Seoul was still converting its landscape into a pack of efficiently-oriented buildings. I began to photograph the ruins of the destructed sites.
MF: Did you study photography at university or are you self- taught?
DYK: I felt the need for a more formal education and therefore chose to come to London and study Photography at the London College of Communication and Fine Art at Goldsmiths College.
MF: Have you always been drawn to fine art photography and urban landscapes?
DYK: Well, I don’t think I could clearly grasp the meaning of ‘fine art photography’ and what it incorporated when I first started my professional career. I believe my work can be classified as both documentary and fine art photography; it’s borderline between both. I’m interested in still life and in particular cityscapes, because I find this kind of photography more reflective and meditative. Ruins and destructed sites contain a lot of history. That’s why I am so attracted to Berlin. I am interested in its modern history and its post-war architecture.
MF: Are your shooting methods influenced by your chosen style?
DYK: It really depends on the size, detail and colour of the subject photographed. I pay a lot of attention to detail both when photographing, processing and composing my final image, taking into account every corner of my “blurry” images and therefore I mostly shoot with a 5×4. I also quite enjoy shooting with colour film but sometimes I feel, that after layering the image, the colour can disturb and distract the viewer’s focus from the actual subject so I often prefer to use black and white film instead.
MF: What intrigues you and inspires your work? Are there conceptual ideas behind the work?
DYK: It’s always been cities; more specifically urban landscapes and the culmination of historical events that took place within these that intrigue me. I also sometimes include aspects from my personal life and memories in my work. I am interested in investigating how landscape transforms with time and in how the memories of past events are stacked within these.
MF: What is it exactly that you are trying to reveal through your work?
DYK: I’m trying to reveal what’s real. When buildings are restored for example, I struggle to believe that they will look exactly the same as the originals. I am also interested in exploring the history of events that took place in a specific location and the memories that individuals have of these.
MF: So you approach your subject matter with a forensic eye? Does that mean a kind of combination of detective, historian and archaeologist in order to research your subjects and locations?
DYK: Yes exactly. Tiergarten Park in Berlin for example, has been rebuilt, but it looks very different from how it originally looked like. I’m trying to find out what’s behind the scenes. The new mixed with the former. I’m interested in investigating the relationship between the authentic and the transformed, altered, even distorted realities both in the physical and metaphorical sense.
MF: So this is the conceptual idea behind your series Memory?
DYK: In Memory, I have focused on the individual’s state of living in this excessively globalised and fast-paced society, as I believe the behaviour of humans is strongly influenced by memories from both direct and indirect experiences. People can’t recall all the events of their lives these days, there’s just too much going on. By ‘stacking’ each image, a new vision is created, which extends beyond the human’s natural perceptive abilities and the circumstances and events are compressed. This ‘compressing’ freezes the moment that I capture and it intervenes in all the strata within an image.
MF: And why did you decide to photograph those specific objects?
DYK: The reason I chose those objects, was because I believed that they represent anchors. They remind people of experiences that they might have forgotten.
MF: So images like “Roundabout” present memories of both real events that took place in that location as well as collective memories from other people who have experienced a situation in that place?
You therefore chose this method of compressing and layering to emphasize the overlap of these events and their uncertainty.
MF: Can you describe your working method when constructing these images?
DYK: It begins with selecting the objects. I avoid taking photos of people or figures, as it’s too specific. When you see people, they become the central focus, all the attention goes to them. The object therefore can’t be private; it has to be a common public object, which anyone can relate to. In this way, both the object and background do not limit the viewer’s imagination. By generalising my objects I open the relationship with the viewers. I maintain a relationship with the audience by deliberately choosing to photograph things which I am not personally attached too. Actually, even though I have lived in or been in a certain place at a certain period of time, I might experience it differently when I return there years later. I take into account both time and space when composing my images. This is visualised by the multi-layers, which trace the viewer’s memory. The final image is titled according to the name given to the object by the local community, in the present day.
A through thought process goes into choosing which part of the object to photograph. I decide the number of photos needed based on its features and its surroundings (I take eight shots on average), and by doing so I investigate the harmony and balance between the artificial aspects of the object within the natural aspects of the environment in which it’s placed in.
MF: What is the thought process that goes on when layering the images, and how many images are you using?
DYK: I go around the object and try to cover the whole aspect of object. Then I scan the photographs to computer and layer them. With the layering effect I highlight the fact that everything is built on top of what existed before. Nothing is completely really new; everything is part of something that was before, a continuation.
Once the object has been photographed, layered and later exposed to the audience, the object can be interpreted differently depending on the angle it’s viewed from and on the background images that surround the object in the final image. In short, I offer an alternative way of looking at the original object and contemporarily promote different ways of viewing and interpretation the actual layered image.
MF: You mentioned that you intentionally blur your images.
DYK: Yes I care about how it’s blurred and how much it’s blurred. I like the blurry effect. The visual uncertainty reinforces the subjective quality of my work. I want to give space to the viewer to give his own interpretation of the events, by leaving things more abstract.
MF: Do you often revisit the places you photograph?
DYK: I usually visit a location only once to actually photograph. I research locations on Google Street View. Sometimes, however, the street view is not accurate and I arrive at the location and the object is no longer there! But I photograph the area anyway as the shots can always be useful for a future project.
MF: So you choose the type of object you would like to photograph beforehand and then you research possible locations?
DYK: Yes, I choose the object first. For example, if I want to photograph a roundabout, I research many locations with Google. Then I go all around London to see them for myself, without a camera. After I’ve chosen the one which I want to photograph, I return to it with my camera.
MF: What do you consider the biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
DYK: I recently had a group show with other Korean artists at the Saatchi gallery this summer (July through to September 2012). This exhibition gave me the opportunity to engage with other artists who use different media, which as a result broadened my ideas on fine art photography.
MF: How many pieces did you show?
DYK: Five pieces, edition of 5, one size only (75x100cm).
MF: What is your current project?
DYK: My newest project is called ‘Decryption Algorithm’.
MF: Sounds interesting. Is it a continuation from your previous series, Memory?
DYK: This project is an evolution in thought from Memory. Memory is the base. Before I focused more on individual memories and now I’ve moved onto collective memories. My images are becoming more and more abstract, less personal and open to subjective interpretation.
The conceptual idea doesn’t need to be rigid. However, the methodology applied in the post-production and the actual layering of the images to create the final image, is very structured and meticulous.
MF: So in conclusion your work has gradually evolved from an exploration of personal identity to that of a collective identity or collective imagination, correct?
DYK: Spot on. My work is becoming more abstract in order to unleash the viewer’s imagination.