These photographs document workers at shops located in the area of Insa-Dong, Seoul. When we think of Insa-Dong, the first thing that comes to one’s mind must be that Insa-Dong is a district where many foreigners visit because this area is crowded with shops that sell Korean traditional stuffs. However, the antiques and souvenirs sold there are in fact imported goods either from China or South East Asian countries. Saying “traditional something” they claim they are representative of Korean culture, although they are only the commercially transformed merchandise. What is more interesting is that we often find either owners or employees of shops in this area who have acquired similar facial expressions and a certain aura. I believe this is not just a coincidence but is a result o being surrounded by the goods they sell and their environment. We can find more examples everywhere. If you go to a restaurant, you will find that workers and their uniforms correspond to their type of service. This must display the fact that people either unconsciously adapt themselves to their occupation’s cultural code or they consciously assimilate their garments, make-ups and hairstyles. People adjust to their environment. This also can be explained as group psychology that tends to follow the trends consciously/ unconsciously. This is also related to Korea’s uniformed educational system that teaches blending appearance as a virtue rather than individual taste. This phenomenon shows similarities to camouflage that insects or animals use. I would speculate that people in these stores also want to blend into their environment as insects do. The stores/work places that I photographed are sample spaces in an urban life, and these work places present the workers. As people grow older, they chose suitable jobs depending on their social and financial situations and classes. Their status is gradually formed through a mix of opportunity and fate. Thus, both the people and the stores’ interiors which form the background of my picture, have inseparably significant relationships. Characteristics and facial expressions of workers correspond to their occupations. As modernization proceeded, general categorization, and collection, systemization by people in power was followed and they are widely accepted in the society. This archiving became the foundation of my project. I try to transform the archive that you can find from the field of science into mine using maximized repetitive and qualitative aspects of photography.
My photographing method is to take pictures with an almost closed aperture to get hyper realistic painting quality of both subjects and background: merchandise, surroundings, and small parts of the stores. As a result, the workers and all the displayed merchandise are mixed up and we can hardly distinguish the workers from the picture. To achieve presenting photographs of the workers in their stores in Seoul, I ask people to pose naturally, but in a memorable manner, whether sitting or standing.
(Jeong Mee Yoon | ‘Insa-dong’ series, PRIVATE 52, pages, 56-59)