Photography of People

Photographs of people are ubiquitous these days. Everyone has a digital camera and loads of pictures are taken and shared or deleted. I’m sure everyone has witnessed a teenage girl sitting by herself in a coffee shop, dressed up and taking photos of herself with her cell phone. Profile pictures on facebook and other social networks, often have pictures, not of the person but of something else that the person wants to message visually to any ‘readers’.

Staged photos of people in the early days of photography are especially iconic. I grew up with photos being a very rare and celebrated art form. While my father was diligently documenting our rare vacations, our house was filled with visions of National Geographic as well as portraiture of my ancestors. So it is people and nature as subjects of the photos I idealize most.

Korea too takes much pride in natural scenery photography, often tweaked with different photography methodologies. But it is the portraits and pictures of people at the 2010 Gwangju Biennale that I was most excited about. The teddy bear exhibit, really rocked my world, even though there were several other photography exhibits which were just as stimulating.

From everyday life in Korea, I have always been fascinated about the street promotion of portrait photographers. Easels or banners of photos are displayed. Family photos, individual portraits, baby photos. All of these grace the busy street life as snap shots in time of family celebration. The babies are always the most arresting – nudes, babies as kings, a family dressed up in matching, cutesy clothes. The costuming is a wonderful way to see the ideals of Koreans. And I haven’t even mentioned the cult of the bridal photo shoot – a fashion show that immortalizes the couple at temples, landmarks, and these days, a coffee shop back drop is very popular.

So when I look around at the portraits I see, I actually feel I am witnessing documentary photographer, Manuel Alvarez Bravo staging Korean archetypes with special settings and costumes. A surrealist experience of Korean life.


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