The “Not Seoul” photography exhibition allows the public to interpret the city in their own way

Korea time


The “Not Seoul” photography exhibition allows the public to interpret the city in their own way

Street photographer Chae Kyung-wan, who goes by his pen name, K. Chae / Courtesy of K. Chae
Street photographer Chae Kyung-wan, who goes by his pen name, K. Chae / Courtesy of K. Chae

A photographer captures the streets of Seoul during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Kwak Yeon-soo

Chae Kyung-wan, who goes by his pen name, K. Chae, is a street photographer who travels the world to express what he sees with photography. He takes pictures of people, cityscapes, landscapes, wild animals and anything that interests him on his way.

He has traveled to 85 countries to capture untold moments in life. His latest travel plan to Central Asia was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving him more time to capture the beauty of Seoul instead.

“I always thought I would take pictures of Seoul when I grew up and traveling was uncomfortable. Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Seoul was where I spent time off season. But things have changed in the last two years,” he said in an interview with The Korea Times on Tuesday.

Chae started wandering the streets of Seoul and capturing little moments that people often miss. However, he explained that his approach to shooting photos in Seoul was not much different from shooting scenes in unfamiliar cities.

“To me, photography is not about documenting what I see. It is about expressing myself, so my goal was not to capture what is real, but to see the world from my own perspective,” did he declare.

According to him, a photograph can always show something entirely different. There is no single answer to how and what something or someone should look like. Each person sees things differently. That’s why he named the title of his latest exhibition, “Not Seoul.”

Chae’s attention to color is what makes her photos unique.

“I take colorful photos because I’m a colorful person. I take photos and add my signature style, which is to up the contrast and amp up the color,” he said.

“Three Umbrellas” / Courtesy of K. Chae

The photographer says he has always loved colors as far back as he can remember.

“When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. But I was bad at drawing. an artist even though I couldn’t draw,” he said.

The photographer’s experience in Honduras and the United States also influenced his way of seeing the world. At the age of 16, he moved to Honduras with his family for a year and a half, then to New York, where he finished high school and university.

“Moving to different countries at an early age opened my eyes to the diversity of the world. I have a desire to travel, so I get restless if I stay in one place for a long time,” he said.

Chae said he tries to minimize taking photos because, in the age of digital photography, it’s so easy to take photos.

“I think it’s important for a photographer to know when not to take a photo. It’s important to know the weight of the photos. I always ask myself, ‘What is the reason for taking this photo?’ I feel like an image should always have a purpose,” he said.

An installation view of K. Chae's exhibition,
An installation view of K. Chae’s exhibition, “Not Seoul” / Courtesy of K. Chae

Chae has a different philosophy in mind when taking photos, inspired by early 20th century photographers including Saul Leiter, Willy Ronis and Elliot Erwitt. “I never prep my pictures. I don’t ask people to pose and I don’t pay people to take pictures. I do my best not to disturb the scene. I want to be part of a moment, not an obstacle,” he said.

The 42-year-old also explained why he doesn’t take black and white photos.

“Today, photographers often use black and white to record photos that don’t work in color. By imposing a certain limit on myself, I aim for perfection when it comes to taking photos”, a- he declared.

People and landscape are equally important in his work, but for the “Not Seoul” exhibition, Chae focused more on capturing the cityscape.

“As a street photographer, I like to capture spontaneous moments of people. But I took more pictures of cityscapes in Seoul. I went out to capture day and night in the city, although personally, I like rainy, snowy and overcast weather. The night view images also have a very particular emotional impact that is difficult to explain,” he said.

“Fantasy Express” / Courtesy of K. Chae

One of the main things he noticed about Koreans is that they prefer landscape photos to photos of people.

“I don’t know why, but Koreans don’t like foreigners appearing in the picture frame. They prefer natural landscapes with no human elements,” he said.

Chae said he wanted visitors to celebrate their own memories of Seoul through his exhibit. “Some people may not like the intense colors and contrast in my photos. However, I don’t want people to question the authenticity of my photos, as this is my way of capturing the spirit of Seoul,” he said. said. “I hope people can experience their own Seoul through my photographs.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic ended, Chae said he wanted to travel overseas to see the diverse faces of the world. “I would love to travel the Caucasus and Central Asia for about four months. Otherwise, I’m thinking of going to Iceland and Greenland,” he said.

“Not Seoul” runs through April 24 at Minjung Gallery in Samcheong-dong, Seoul.

Tracey L. Sweeney