In this series of images, I have posed street-cast young Korean women dressed in the traditional Hanbok against a backdrop of its modern austere capital city, Seoul. The setting illustrate the country’s history, the political tensions between South and North Korea, and its cultural traditions, such as the tea ceremony and gift giving.
In Korea, gifts express a great deal about the country’s customs and the relationships between its peoples. For example, it is inconsiderate to give someone an expensive gift if they can’t do the same in return. Gifts are never opened when received, sometimes not at all. Also, wrapping the gift is very important- red or yellow papers are royal colours, yellow and pink paper express happiness.Green however, is not recommended. That’s why the women in my image ‘Present’ the women are looking aghast at the present on the floor, which was wrapped in green paper.
Korea was a single, independent kingdom for many thousands of years, with traditional architecture, works of art, and customs. However, the country was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945. My image ‘Rickshaw’ reflects back on this unsettled period in Korea’s history.
When Japan was defeatedat the end of WWIIKorea was split by victor nations into two separate nations, South Korea and North Korea, along ideological persuasions. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, starting a bloody war that lasted more than 3 years and involving more than 20 countries.My image ‘Tug of War’ symbolises this war and the continuing political struggles between the two nations.
Hanbok is a centuries old traditional apparel unique to Korea. Mostly, Hanbokwas brilliant in its bright colourings, but subdued in its flowing lines and the way it hid the body shape.Some wore Hanbok made from un-dyed plain cloth. Those wearing it were referred to as ‘white-clad people’. As it was a common form of attire the upper classes wore jewellery to separate themselves from the common people.
Nowadays Hanbok is often worn during national holidays and on festive occasions, although I was also told that some high schools have recentlyadopted it for their school uniforms. In the past women would wear wigs, but today they wear their hair tightly knotted high on their head or loose, both held in place with a long pin.
My lighting uses a combination of natural and artificial light, which gives a cinematic effect. In the instance of the portraits the beauty and poses of the models wearing Hanbok was sufficient. In some street scenes I used various props in contrast with the traditional dress to give flashbacks to the past, see here ‘Firewood’and ‘Grain’. In a more contemporary observation, ‘Badminton’ is a very popular folk sport and one in which Koreans excel in international competitions. ‘Ikebana’ is also a favoured pastime, in this scene it is used to decorate a tree.
I was told before I left London for my visit to Korea that it was the monsoon season there. Not having encountered the monsoon season before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I learned quite soon. It means incredibly heavy rain-storms, and when it isn’t raining the humidity is 90% and the temperature is very high by London’s standards. Sadly six people died at a river close to where we were shooting. Some of the locations got flooded, but had dried out by the time we started shooting, otherwise it would have been impossible! [Official Website]
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