“It’s a little bit like therapy, getting aware of your own self.”
I met O-Young Kwon in Germany when he came back to Berlin, where he was born and grew up. He looks at his friends’ photos of their mutual residency in South Korea, home country of his parents.
Evoking a strong reminiscence of the past, he recognized the power of photography for the very first time and soon picked up a camera allowing to grow and prosper a whole new perspective of everyday life.
Gaining a Bachelor degree in urban economics and city planning, he decides to pursue his dream and make photography his full-time profession. A decade full of extensive work as a freelance lighting assistant and digital operator for advertisement campaigns and fashion photo productions all over the world followed and allowed him to derive valuable knowledge about the industry, making him realize a relentless urge for more sincere authenticity.
Soon enough O-Young puts all his efforts into his own photo projects. While his other passion for travelling helped him to reach out for the world, he loves to dig deep and really takes his time for the stories he wants to tell. This way he tries to make sure that he gets rid of the superficiality he himself had to go through for so long.
Now after years we met again, sitting in his room in a shared flat, located in probably the most dirtiest part of Hamburg/Germany near to the main station, between cheap prostitutes and crack junkies. He is now 34 years old and shows me his favorite works he did in the past and tells me how he feels as a documentary photographer.
His perception of photography led him to look into different cultures and made him aware of certain social issues, which are often rooted in political circumstances. Inevitably O-Young Kwon turned into a conscientious photographer following ethical principles, who has been apolitical, but not anymore.
While he continues he spreads some prints on the wooden floor in front of us and one photograph had my full attention: A masked woman from behind facing someone who is also masked, holding a machine gun. “That’s Nujiyan, a female militant of the Kurdish PKK and her partner Deniz”, he explains. He met them in the Winter after the re-election of Recep T. Erdoğan and made a portrait series right before the big offensive took place in Nusaybin at the Turkish/Syrian border. It took him roughly six months of investigation to get connected to the Kurdish freedom movement and to finally meet them.
Because he shoots almost everything in color, there were these pictures in black and white, which really stand out and he really was glad that I wanted to know more about them. They’re part of a story about xenophobic Skinheads in Serbia and he was kind of proud about the fact that he was able to shoot them, considering his non-white foreign descent.
The more stories he produces, he feels that his work is not really about taking photos: “Actually I just use the camera as a tool to engage with social studies, where indeed the result is seen in forms of pictures, sounds and words, but the real body of my work is so much more than that. It’s about empathy and building up trust, how to get involved in subcultures, where you don’t have any connections to at all. To respect others without prejudices and to never stop to question yourself and your origin”, he tells me. “It’s a little bit like therapy, getting aware of your own self.” Almost orchestrated a long loud ‘Amen’ hits the windows from the street preacher outside, weirdly confirming what O-Young just said. [Official Website]