99 Variations of Oxymoronic Harmonies
I am a somewhat well-known commercial photographer in South Korea. When I started, at the age of 28, I did not have any formal photography education or art theory, which meant that my skills were not sufficient. That is why I naturally developed “three unique advantages” that became defining characteristics for me and helped distinguish me from other photographers. From when I started taking pictures I used to play loud music and my movements and communication were like a dancer/conductor, through this I could communicate with deep insight of models, so I could extract the emotion effectively from the model. This unique “directional” style was my first advantage. My second advantage was my “knowledge from liberal arts”, I was always trying to create stories or feelings in my pictures, which comes from my major in literature. The third advantage was my presentation skills, where presentations were like a “performance” speech and could persuade the advertisers. These three advantages helped me in being able to get a lot of commercial works and eventually in succeeding as a commercial photographer in my 30s.
I consider my opportunity to become a photographer as a form of luck. I fully immersed myself into the role of being a photographer in the same way that actors fully immerses themselves into a specific character or role. This meant that I could adapt into every situation and change identity according to conditions. Even though my confidence was sometimes lacking, I was able to adapt to my identity as a commercial photographer.
But after ten years I started to become more confused about my identity. Realizing that each role and whatever situation I was in, used to be my focus, I started doubting myself, because some could perceive me as an actor doing his best within the character of a commercial photographer. My effort in being real was always with all that I had, but with time and with deep honesty I understood that it made up 99% of reality. Ultimately it felt like just maintaining an appearance. Gradually, the feeling of me pretending to be a photographer grew. The things that I loved were wealth, fame and the good relationship that were obtainable as a successful commercial photographer. This created a growing anxiety within myself. Within the commercial sphere I was a living success, but deep inside, I asked myself “What do I really want? Is this it?” these forms of questioning made my values lose worth to me.
From this point I started taking pictures of myself in front of a mirror. I spent a considerable amount of time observing myself in the mirror with my camera, asking myself “What are the things that I do well? What are the things I love to do and enjoy the most?” Images in themselves, even if they are the final output, were not what I was looking for. In fact, the process of taking pictures was what I loved. By working with a mirror I realized that the process itself was more important to me than the final output. My desire was in something alive, the present happening and the actual process of creating the images, not the output. The images could be defined as a mummy, meant as preservation for future exhibiting.
From 2007 I started to actively look for my real identity. Discovering myself in front of the mirror, I first tried to change my figure from being a photographer into being a different artist. The irony is that even though I wanted to change my figure, I did not hide my camera; moreover I tried to situate my camera as an obvious element within the frame. The camera thus looks as if it is interrupting my changing of figure, even if it only covers 1% within the frame. When I look at my images I feel that even though my soul is changed, my camera remains unchanged. It is like an “awaken dream”. Each image is like a dream that is different from reality. But at the same time, each dreamlike image has a strong element of reality which is my camera. This causes a contradiction and absence of harmony. The camera might stand out uncomfortably when viewed in the final output, but actually when creating the images, the existence of the camera is a vital energy source in my process. This means that the changing of figure and the maintaining of the camera in the frame is an oxymoronic desire. However for me they both exist simultaneously. In the end, it means that the very essence of my desire even by itself is a contradiction. Afterwards I realized that the more I discover about my oxymoronic identities, the more of a harmonized structure it becomes, which stops my anxiety concerning my oxymoronic identities.
Nowadays, whenever I am to answers someone’s questions about my work’s genre I reply that it is “performance art”. My works are focused on “the time” that I am in front of the mirror, creating the images. After creating images in a specific session, the performance finishes. The most important thing is the creation process, the actual activity that takes place in front of the mirror at the moment. Nevertheless, for remembering I capture that moment of changing by using my camera.
From the beginning till now the goal of my photo project is to extract 99 variations of myself. In 2009 I exhibited my latest works for the first time and I also did a performance at the opening exhibition. Actually it was more of a photography exhibition than performance art. Because at that time I thought that a photographic exhibition could be more beneficial to me than a performance exhibition, considering the time of exposure. Indeed I had been criticized of being a commercial photographer who just wanted to upgrade into an artist. My performance art may have been misunderstood as a playful entertainment and could have passed unnoticed. Some art critiques have mentioned that they view my performance art as only amusement.
Despite that experience I have been focusing more on my performance works in my atelier. By the beginning of my first works “99 Variations” I studied only about “my selves”, but lately I have been concentrating on “relationships” with other participants. Together with other artists in my frame I have done what I call improvised collaborations. Furthermore I will try to extend it and bring the audience into my frame as well. In building my identity I have realized that it not only depends on myself, but also on the relationship with others. I am not certain yet, but I believe that these kinds of works, about the relationship, can be helpful in fully appreciating and exposing the bizarre as well as beautiful “coexistence” regarding “oxymoronic harmonies”.