smoking area: performative photography

In an era where taking and being taken in photographs has become ubiquitous, this project began with a desire to directly seek answers to the question, 'What is photography in today?'. If my previous endeavors focused on depicting and expressing a specific subject, here, I aimed to amplify the performative aspects inherent in photography, striving to conduct a performance art experiment where the presence of the artist is absent from the frame. However, it took a considerable amount of time to actually step out onto the streets to stand before people. It was during the early stages of the pandemic, and everyone had to wear masks while outdoors. I had no choice but to indefinitely postpone this project. 

Setting up my studio near Samil-daero, which runs through the heart of Seoul's Jongno district, what captivated me the most was the bustling crowds streaming out for lunch amidst the multitude of buildings around noon. I enjoyed watching people carrying disposable coffee cups in one hand after finishing their meals, others strolling along Cheonggye stream with colleagues, and groups gathering to smoke together. Among them, my favorite sight was the people smoking, especially the men wearing exceptionally white shirts. I wondered about the individuals who still wear well-ironed white shirts in this modern era "who might they be?". Since it was a special time just to watch people's bare faces on the streets, the fact that people smoking were removing their masks fascinated me. In my mind, the reckless plan I had been contemplating for so long intertwined with the image of men in white shirts.

Standing still in the heart of the capital of South Korea, and taking  pictures in front of strangers without any warning was a fear in itself. I had been accustomed to quickly snapping photos to capture without the other person's notice, I, on the contrary, deliberately paused right in front to take a picture, hoping to make my presence known and elicit a response from them. It could be described as a perfectly intentional design, yet simultaneously, a perfect serendipity shaping the unexpected forms. The cycle of trials and errors, acceptances and rejections from them continued, often leading to the deletion of numerous photos on the spot. Naturally, the photos of the men who declined were particularly intriguing because their vulnerabilities were fully captured. Nevertheless, I graciously accepted the rejections as a matter of course and am grateful to those who allowed the use of their photos.

My apprehension about potential physical confrontations with these men turned out to be unnecessary. Regardless of their reactions, standing still and continuously pressing the shutter, they never approached me to snatch away the camera. Yet, each attempt felt like a new beginning, with every moment imbued with a tension akin to life shortening, a sheer sense of nervousness and disorientation. Once I approached an elderly person who looked like something dangerous on the street. As soon as I stopped right in front and aligned the camera viewfinder with eye level, a barrage of harsh curses accompanied by a fist swiftly came my way. Nevertheless, it wasn't entirely unpleasant. I became convinced that an unknown influence was at work, safeguarding me and my camera in the presence of the men in white shirts. In the end, while the object of 'white shirts' served as a clue in this work, it also left me with another task, as I aimed to transcend the objectification of photography.




Exhibition view: smoking area: performative photography, Variable dimention, Kimsunik studio, Seoul, South Korea <2024>