In the past 40 years, South Korea has experienced rapid changes in both its society and culture. Since the beginning of the 1980s, there has been a significant shift towards high-tech and computer industries, impacting how the nation’s people work, where they live but also how they spend their free time. For South Korean photographer, Seung-Gu Kim, these changes have provided him with a subject to focus his lens on.
“I wanted to describe how we are living,” he explains, “and I thought photography could show our ‘real world’.” The “real world” that Seung-Gu has chosen to focus on is the development of his home country, in particular, what he describes as its “social ironies”. Choosing to document various facets of these ironies in detail, Seung-Gu’s body of work provides “visual material to showcase the stream of sociocultural phenomena.”
Having documented the Korean relationship to the water, as well as recent trends in Korean housing – which sees cities recreating mountains within apartment complexes – one of Seung-Gu’s most recent series focussing on the irony of South Korean holidays, particularly caught our eye. Titled Better Days the series depicts how, as Koreans work extraordinarily long hours, when it comes to going on holiday, they often don’t have the time to travel very far. As a result, leisure parks and entertainment multiplexes have cropped up all over Seoul’s suburbs.
Seung-Gu first began documenting these places during his twenties. “I had been studying and working really hard. At that time, I was curious to see how other people spent their weekends,” he recalls. “I took a bus trip and started my own ‘day trip’ to the leisures places they were going to.”
The images in Better Days are fascinating, largely because of their composition. Akin to a Lowry painting, the scenes are symmetrically composed, many of them populated by human figures who provide balance to the more unnatural elements within the frame. Moving from swimming pools to ice rinks, the images act as an archive for a culture that will surely change as quickly as it has developed.
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