tag Sign Up for our Newsletter
Site Logo
Don’t miss out on the art world’s most entertaining newsletter - every Friday. And career news every Tuesday.
Become a members
5 Korean Photographers You Better Know
Jot these names down in an iPhone note—you’re going to be hearing about them a lot.
Art Stuff 12 Mar 2019

The land that gave us K-Pop and KBBQ also happens to be a hotspot of creative talent. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into Korea’s contemporary art scene by way of 5 artists’ and creatives’ IG accounts. Jot these names down in an iPhone note—you’re going to be hearing about them a lot.
In recent decades, the birth of democracy and rapid industrialization have completely transformed Korea from an isolated, dictatorial Cold War battleground into a hyper-urban landscape plugged into the global economy. The tension between old (a rich Buddhist and Sindo tradition that emphasizes harmony with nature, mixed with a legacy of Japanese imperialism, a period of dictatorship and a communist/capitalist tug-of-war) and new (a late capitalist world populated by screens, gadgets and Supreme hoodies) has given rise to a vibrant art scene that, like the rest of the country, is constantly in flux.
As you would expect, Korea’s main creative hub is the capital, Seoul, a megacity of nearly 10 million people. Its size and scale clearly influences the art coming out of the city. Industrial landscapes, grungy haircuts, streetwear and all things oversized, à la Euro/NY/L.A. “alternative” culture, abound, but so do escapism and fantasy. After all, the modern age comes with its downsides—raise your hand if you’re addicted to your SmartPhone! Who can resist the temptation to create new worlds to escape to when you’re fed up with the real one around you? In a way, these two currents in the Korean art scene reflect the two possibilities that digital technology offers us: connecting to people, trends and cultures far away, and hiding out from reality in virtual spaces . 
Although Korean artists like Suh Do-Ho and Ham Kyung-Ah have been making waves in the art world since the ‘90s, today, a new creative generation is on the rise. You might not be able to find all their work at Sotheby’s (yet), but you can find it on Instagram. And in tomorrow’s art world, the most important figure will be how many thousands of followers you have, not how many thousands of dollars your work goes for at auction.
Since photography and video are digital tech’s medium of choice, the art gallery of the future, we’re highlighting young, Korean artists who work in them. Below, check out five accounts that you should definitely be following.

1) KangHee Kim

KangHee Kim is the most well-known name on our list, and for good reason. This New York-based, mostly self-taught photographer makes surreal, dreamy pictures of tropical landscapes and creamsicle clouds photoshopped into mundane surroundings, like a subway seat or a shop window.
It’s her way of escaping the boredom of her daily life—and for now, her only way. Since the Trump administration suspended DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy that allowed people who came to the US illegally as children to live and work in the country, Kim been trapped inside the US borders. If she leaves America, she can’t come back.
While she’s been waiting for her visa status to clear, Kim’s had to miss her first museum show at D Museum in Korea, Weather (2018). The exhibition included work from her ongoing photo series Street Errands, which she started in 2016 to process her visa angst by Photoshopping pictures from her travels around the US onto her New York surroundings. “I feel really frustrated and pretty hopeless because of my visa status, but this is a kind of therapeutic process because it’s making impossible things possible for me, beyond the limits and restraints of my real life,” she told Fader. “It’s like utopia for me.”
To check out more of the series and Kim’s work, browse her IG or her website, or buy her books, Magic and Golden Hour.

2) JeeYoung Lee

Secret Garden installation at OzAsia Festival in Australia, 25 Oct-11 Nov 2018.
While Kim creates her fantasies with a little help from Photoshop, JeeYoung Lee builds them by hand, then captures them on film. Over long periods of time, she sculpts intricate landscapes, ranging from her interpretation of Alice’s garden and the Last Supper to dreamt-up interiors that reflect her emotional states. Her most recent series, Stage of Mind, plays off the idea of the mind as a room and imagines what it would look like in different moods. The artist also appears in the pictures as a character in her own inner world. In this way, she flips the normal scale of reality; thoughts and feelings normally contained inside her become her surroundings.
The project runs a slight risk of coming out banal, but Lee dodges that bullet by giving us unexpected and imaginative interpretations of common moods. Broken Heart is a blue box, torn on the inside by rocks poking in, filled with cracked eggs, while Nightmare is a tangled tornado of yellow paperclips. The effect is both whimsical and spooky and perfectly relays the feeling of being trapped in your own head.
Lee was born and raised in Korea, where she studied photography and lives and works today. Her work has been shown in Korea and abroad, in Europe, Australia, New York, and all around Asia. To see more, check out her IG and her Artsy page.

3) Soyeon Kim

Soyeon Kim is a photographer and illustrator whose two mediums come together in vibrant spreads full of color, energy and movement. In today’s art world, multimedia projects are becoming the norm, not the exception, so the combination of photography and illustration isn’t what sets Kim’s work apart. Actually, it’s not what Kim does but how the effect plays out that caught our eye. Kim strikes the perfect balance of serious and whimsical, sharp and playful with the use of bold colors, geometric shapes and loose, expressionistic lines. The effect is a Petra Collins-meets-California neo noir photo aesthetic which perfectly captures the look and feel of our oversaturated, Instagram age, elevating it at the same time. 
To see the latest, follow Kim on IG.

4) Lindsay Gary Ryklief, a.k.a. Ligrye

Lindsay Gary Ryklief, a South African-born, Seoul-based photographer, DJ and promoter, is a perennial fixture on the Korean LGBTQ scene. After struggling with his identity and sexuality throughout his childhood, he moved to South Korea to teach English and, within months, felt free enough to come out. That’s not to say that being queer in Korea is easy; the country is pretty conservative, so the community remains fairly small and not very visible.
But Ryklief is changing that, one song and one shot at a time. As a producer and promoter, he throws parties for the Seoul queer community, where tries to expose it to global queer club culture, Ryklief told i-D in 2017. But it’s in his photography work that he’s really shifting the paradigm. Boys of Seoul, a photography IG account that he runs, posts tender and erotic photographs of Korean men that clearly refer to homosexuality.
The effect is beautiful and resonates on several different levels. His quasi “girl gaze” way of capturing these men challenges stereotypes about the gay community like hyper-masculinity and lack of feelings. And by posting pictures of gay men that are Korean, “boys of Seoul,” he spreads a story about Asian men, and Korean society, that rarely gets told, both in his country and around the world. In this way, Ryklief gives us a hopeful vision of what social media can accomplish for marginalized communities. 

5) Hong June Hyung

You’ve probably seen Hong June Hyung’s candy-colored pictures if you’ve ever browsed a copy of Dazed Korea, Elle Korea, W Korea, Marie Claire Korea, Vogue Korea… the list goes on. But Hyung is far from yet another editorial photographer and videographer—his spreads are as dreamy as they are crisp, guaranteed to pull you into their world, whether it’s strutting through ancient temples with Adidas or donning an unlikely ensemble of Converse, ballet tulle, feathers, black hair extensions and a Cyrus Kabiru-inspired metal crown for your next night out.
With more stuff to buy and more media to consume than ever before, consumers today (that’s us!) are drowning in options. That’s why, these days, to sell some clothes or a magazine, you have to tell a damn good story. And since a picture’s worth a thousand words, photographers like Hyung, who can capture a mood, a character, a personality in a single snapshot or a 20-second clip, are such a hot commodity.
This need for more and more complex advertising content also means less and less space between art and commercial photography and video. With ads and editorial spreads rivaling art photography for creativity and grandiosity of concept, and art photography increasingly commercially focused, can we even draw a line between teh two anymore? Maybe, but photographers like Hyung are smudging, burning, blurring and erasing that line, one beautiful shoot at a time.

Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via @tinycactus, @jee_young_lee, @wyw_kiki98, @boysofseoul, @hongjunehyung.

You May Also Like

How Art Girls Recover From A Bad Day At Work
How Art Girls Recover From A Bad Day At Work
Portals, Pranks, and Proximity: The Tale of a Transatlantic Art Installation
Portals, Pranks, and Proximity: The Tale of a Transatlantic Art Installation
Weekly Wrap-Up
Weekly Wrap-Up
How Art Girls Recover From A Bad Day At Work
How Art Girls Recover From A Bad Day At Work
Save the Date & What a fair!
Save the Date & What a fair!
Art Collecting 101 Chat With Gaelle Alexis
Art Collecting 101 Chat With Gaelle Alexis


Social Media Manager 
Vogue Italia - Milano, IT
Junior Presentation Designer
Howard Hughes - Remote
Head of mediation
Weserburg - Bremen, Germany
Blikopeners Coordinator
Stedelijk Museum - Amsterdam