Korean photographer June P. Kim is a literary editor by day and a wandering flâneur by night. His photographs of the city in which he was born and raised are full of darkened streets and intimate focus, each one alive with anticipation and quiet.
What got you into photography?
Nine years ago I bought a Canon digital P&S, from a sense of parental duty. Then I knew nothing about photography or the camera. The most surprising thing was that I could not produce a picture as I intended. The pictures are always very poor, of course, and different from my intention in a very flawed way. That interested me, I think.
What do you shoot on?
My first camera was digital and now I shoot both on film and on digital. Since I was into the medium format, the weight given to film dramatically increased. But I don’t think I have a strong preference. A digital camera with a big sensor (same or larger than 135 film) is great. My favorite film for medium format was Kodak Portra 800. I needed ISO 800 and there were not many choices, but Portra 800 seems to have given me more than I needed.
What are you looking for when you go out to shoot? What makes you stop and take a picture?
Light. It’s evident.
I think there was a time I felt obligated to include some human faces in the frame. I thought classical street snaps are meant to be that way. But I realized human faces are too powerful and always tends to dominate the whole photo – and I don’t like that. If I wanted to capture some atmosphere, human element must be vague or suppressed to at least the impersonal level. Since then I tried to dehumanize night scenes – if possible.
Why do you shoot primarily at night?
Because I’m a worker. Night is free time.
What is it about the streets of your city that you love?
Fortunately I work near one of the tourists’ favorite spot, Bukchon. The area retains some old charm and class. I’m not a much traveler so I don’t have any supporting ground to say like Seoul is this or that. I heard Seoul is relatively safe city on a world level. I think this is a remarkable advantage to any night shooter.