Nina Ahn is a photographer from Seoul, South Korea. Her photography is great and worldly, having traveled far from South Korea. Her humbleness and delicate approach to photographs is what makes her more than worthy to join the ranks of the Creative Spotlight. We sit down and discuess a variety of topics, from personal to artistic. Read below for the full Q&A…
Nina, tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into photography.
Nina: I’m a photographer who was born in 1980 and living in Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately, photography is just a hobby so far, so there is no special background to explain. Also, I didn’t attend the School of the Arts; I majored in economics and worked as a marketer. After quitting the job two years ago, I went travelling abroad with my fiancé for a year, then I came back to Seoul and spent days contemplating whether to return to the job or become a full time photographer. Meanwhile, I was luckily or unluckily commissioned to take fashion photos for a magazine. I knew full well about myself that I am not so patient enough to deal with what I don’t like. Plus, I’m not an outgoing person to promote myself. To be honest, I can’t stand excessive self-promotion. For those reasons, I couldn’t be sure that it was wise for me to be a freelancer.
I believe you have lived and shot in Korea for a number of years now. How is it shooting in Korea? How do you find people you shoot on the street there.
Nina: I started taking pictures in 2006 to change my boring life. At that time everyday, I just went to work during the day and came home at night without any feeling of expectancy of my life. Most successful, well-known photographers or any novice in Korea studied in Arts, it would seemed that they consciously try to go abroad and capture exotic atmospheres for showing extreme images as they can do because that’s where business is going. But I’m not a commercial photographer, and I don’t need to feel any pressure, also I don’t have any fantasy of foreign culture and landscape. Everything I shoot is around my area I used to walk. Most of the people in my portraits are my family and close friends. All happenings in my photography are part of my daily life and I unconsciously shoot what I really like on the street, so they are just only good to me, not everyone can sympathize with them. The Only thing I hope when people see my picture is just finding new but familiar emotions holding the breath with pleasure. I indeed love such delicate moments. For example, I prefer to express deep and tranquil sadness without sobbing, full of gentle euphoria without big smiles. To be honest, I’m rather obsessing with the psychology & literature which is giving time to think about some than photography. My mind is usually looking for the fragment of emotion on the face and navigating between people’s character. I feel catharsis at that moment.
Another story is in fact, the shooting environment of Korea is not so bad as other countries are. Especially people living in Seoul don’t care so much of being picture taken. Korea is fashionable enough to significantly higher penetration of digital cameras and that’s the real difficulty to make money by only taking pictures in my country. Most of Korea considers photography a piece of cake. We literally say “Even Dogs and cows can do it” [laughs]. I thought this world is getting too competitive in vain without any excellent progress. I am quite skeptical about the Korean art world. I didn’t want to be any ‘dogs and cows’ without respect.
Do you find you have developed any specific techniques for shooting in that part of the world?
Nina: Not really. I like the natural color and I easily feel bored with anything too extreme. Seen from the area of expression, I think the way to the extreme is the easiest thing in the world. I love capturing situations as it happens. However, I tend to prefer a diptyque way to show pictures.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of feeling are you trying to create in your photos?
Nina: They noticed this is Nina’s photo without knowing my name. That’s exactly what I expect from my pictures. Reflecting the current trend, I don’t want to deliberately be stripped or naked for visual art with no reason, and I don’t want to be a party animal just for personal connections. I don’t want to go back to look for the difference from present fashion & culture which is expected to make you unique. I don’t want to copy European styles as many young Korean photographers tend to. It’s so stupid. Even If they are very proud of showing perfect imitation. I want to avoid “Look at me. YES! I’m Korean” kind of photo. It would be lovely if I can capture the complicated emotion like water without any strong process under the name of fashion.
Does your photography try to capture aspects that draw people to the culture but also facets of everyday Korean life?
Nina: Yes. My daily life isn’t so different from others. All pictures are my personal journal. If you visit Seoul someday, you will be surprised how easy to find such intimate people in my pictures.
I see a variation of positions that people pose in your photos, being captured in the front, as well as the back. Describe your favorite moment of interaction with your subject.
Nina: My favorite is unpredictable and improvised moments. For example, i would prefer to slice the scene off any continuously flowing motion. I try not to making stereotypical images which are directly associated with the feelings. When I work with models, I’d rather explain my ideas using a form of storytelling. I don’t really direct posture every second, I just let them freely do whatever they want to do in the situation until I say ‘it’s enough. you did very well. Thank you’. During that time, I shoot the 1-2 important scenes I plan before to capture at first, then get unthinkable movements revealing their own habit. It’s not so special. I often depend on intuition.
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Nina: I love Korean director Hong Sangsu. He is an absolutely smart guy describing how Korean men get silly when they fall in love with women. I highly recommend movies of very talented director Kim Giduck such as “The Bow” and “Time”. I was very impressed of “Secret Sunshine” by Lee Changdong. Once I broke up with ex, I was extremely obsessed with watching “2046” “In The Mood For Love” by Wong Kar-Wai. The last movies I really want to mention are “Three times” by Hsiao-hsien Hou and “Eternal Summer” by Leste Chen. Both are superior love stories.
When you are in a new area, do you spend most of the trip documenting some of the adventures you came across in your travels, or more so running around with your camera with a dedicated perspective or narrative?
Nina: Lots of my trip photos are spontaneous. I’m simply excited with going somewhere and staying in new places. Except in cases of commissioned photo work, I don’t push myself to find something new or different for photography. Sometimes when I find an extraordinary beautiful place, I feel bad I couldn’t be with a nice model. But, I basically enjoy taking snap photos wandering through any interesting area for new experiences while I travel.
Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
Nina: It’s a shame I couldn’t tell you anything special about my process to you. I like observing. I find myself intently observing others.
What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
Nina: I’m planning to work on a plants and nature project. I’ve been interested in private gardens, residential space in cities so i’ll probably do something related to both to build a commercial career. I’d love to have solo exhibitions abroad this year or publish my second photo book if I’m able to be more financially independent. Lastly, a very important thing, this year I must go to Iceland for my honeymoon!
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