Hyunmin Ryu captures the brilliance of childhood imagination with a photo series on his closest companion, his young nephew

Inspired by his nephew’s quirks and driven by their close bond, the Kim Sae-hyun series is an homage to the innocent creativity and unsuspecting humour of children.

Date
20 July 2022

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Hyunmin Ryu’s photo series Kim Sae-hyun began with a simple message. One day, his nephew – after whom the series is named and who features as the main protagonist throughout – sent a picture to an online family messenger group. In the picture, Sae-hyun was playing the violin in a ghillie suit: an all-in-one, grass-like camouflage get-up. “The strange combination of the suit and a violin stimulated my desire to create such images,” Hyunmin begins, “and I thought it would be cool to work with Sae-Hyun.” The ensuing series is one brimming with joyfulness and moments of tender humour, and viewing it is a sure-fire way to resurrect one’s own memories of childhood play, silly pranks and the odd moment of idle boredom.

Born and raised in Daegu, South Korea, Hyun-min originally started work as a photo and image retoucher and print operator. After dealing with many “great” photos, Hyunmin was compelled to start his own practice and he majored in photography before moving to London to pursue a master’s in media art. When later moving back to his hometown to work, Sae-hyun was living at his family home. Having spent many years there while growing up, Hyunmin had seen his nephew go from a newborn baby to his first year of elementary school, this closeness building what the photographer calls a “special bond”. Watching him grow up has been a great source of inspiration to Hyunmin, and now “our relationship is not only that of a nephew and maternal uncle, but also that of a brother, or a friend,” a fact he hopes comes across in his images. But, he does admit to sometimes feeling guilty about always putting him in front of the lens.

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Hyunmin Ryu: Kim Sae-Hyun (Copyright © Hyunmin Ryu, 2021)

One of the central feelings Hyunmin wants to communicate throughout the series is that it follows his nephew’s growth and, more simply, his day-to-day life. This, Hyunmin explains, is why he applies so many different styles and approaches. Some enhance the silly, absurd side of childhood, like the brilliantly funny Eight-Eyed Boy – which also shows the duo’s ingenious use of props – while others show the quieter, more meditative moments. In Reflection, Sae-hyun sits atop a large rock, his back towards us staring into a body of water, the purples of the early evening light giving it a peaceful quality. There’s even the odd one that comes across as a highly stylised, high-fashion editorial piece – specifically Wearing Grandma’s Clothes, which shows Sae-hyun posing, dressed up to the nines in his grandmother’s coat, fur scarf and sunglasses, a clean white background stylishly framing the shot.

It’s photos like Wearing Grandmother’s Clothes that Hyunmin identifies as his favourite images from the series, for their being recreations of images that existed prior to the project: “I love these photos because they were created without the premise of art”, he adds. They’re the ones that add a sense of familiarity to the shoot, as depictions of funny acts we’ve all ourselves been involved in as children, or can imagine the young ones closest to us re-enacting. Much like a photo version of Richard Linklater’s 12-year spanning epic Boyhood, Hyunmin has dreams of carrying on the series until his nephew becomes an adult. That is, of course, if the leading act Sae-hyun continues to give it the go-ahead.

GalleryHyunmin Ryu: Kim Sae-Hyun (Copyright © Hyunmin Ryu, 2021)

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Hyunmin Ryu: Kim Sae-Hyun (Copyright © Hyunmin Ryu, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.

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