Chad Burton arrived in South Korea in 2004 and began to shoot street style photos and events for his blog thexoxokids. In addition to this he modeled, doing both editorial shoots and Seoul Fashion Week. He left South Korea in 2011, spending time in London before settling in Toronto. He is now a freelance stylist with clients such as Nike, The National Ballet of Canada, and Little Burgundy.
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Photos Chad Burton, Edits Kim Chua
How did you first end up in Korea? What inspired you to start street and event photography back then?
Chad: I wanted to travel after university so I came to Seoul in November 2004 to teach English. I was from a small town in Canada so the street fashion blew my mind - there were so many trends and styles and amazing looking people. I just had to document it! I had never done much clubbing before moving to Korea either and the nightlife scene is just insane. Photographing so many strangers was great for meeting new people as well! There were some locals doing either street or club photos, but no one really did both. Plus, I was the only foreigner at the time doing anything of the sort.
What kind of subjects did you photograph in your street fashion photos?
Chad: Anyone that caught my eye basically! I looked for quirky mashups of vintage and high end, with bright colors – a little bit of swag basically. If you had presence while walking down the street, I wanted to meet you and take your photo.
You were often even tasked to do photos at parties where young, fashionably dressed people went to be seen. How did you start doing event photos and were you involved in the queer or expat party communities in particular?
Chad: Queer... not so much. I was just coming out at the time and didn't identify with that scene so much. Plus, homosexuality was so looked down on in Korea at the time and probably still is. A lot of my friends were expats and some started throwing their own underground parties or bringing in Western bands and DJs, so naturally I became involved in documenting the fun everyone was having and helping the parties grow. It all just seemed so new and fresh, which is what I guess everyone in their 20s feels like when they start partying! But the true mix of East and West we saw at these parties was more exciting than what the norm in Seoul was: Western style bars where it was mostly white dudes with Korean girlfriends or the vice versa at Korean clubs where most foreigners never ventured.
I was curious about the Korean club scene and took a look at your blog thexoxokids in 2010 before visiting Seoul for the first time. Ever since then, blogs like Seoul Youth Culture have popped up too. That blog in particular recontextualizes photos from various sources to tell a story. I think your photos captured the realistic spirit of Korean nightlife.
Chad: The images sometimes do seem a bit forced now. I was literally just into meeting and talking to everyone I could and I was lucky enough to be working as a model on the side so I got close to those kids as well and that allowed me access to VIP sections naturally. I was just having so much fun that I guess it was contagious, so the people I photographed looked like they were having a good time, which they were!
Compared to other international fashion weeks, how was Seoul Fashion Week at the time?
Chad: I didn't have anything to compare it to as Seoul Fashion Week was the first fashion week I had experienced, so for me it was all new and exciting. Moving to London later made Seoul Fashion Week feel a bit quaint, but it was and still is growing every season and getting more and more international press and buyers coming. The first show I was ever invited to watch was when designer Han Sang Hyuk was Creative Director for BON, and he's always been a favorite. When he moved onto being Creative Director for MVIO, I was lucky enough to model in his debut show in a 3 minute opening video. He has since launched Heich es Heich which I'm an avid fan of.
Tell me more about working as a model in Korea!
Chad: It was a fluke for me - just being a tall and white made me stand out in Seoul. There were and still are a lot of online shopping malls that I got started with, most notably JBros, which also has a magazine, and things just went on from there. I was an odd duck, though, as most foreign models are flown in for 3 month contracts with a foreign agency, whereas I got picked up by a Korean agency as I lived there full time, allowing me the opportunity to walk in Seoul Fashion Week. I miss those days!
Why did you decide to leave Seoul?
Chad: After teaching at a private and public school for almost two years, I went freelance and worked by teaching private English lessons while picking up substitute gigs and whatever modeling or photography work I could find! It's definitely really hard finding any visas other than for teaching - almost impossible. I left as I could only really stay if I wanted to teach full time.
What direction did you take post-Korea?
Chad: I moved to London from Seoul to pursue work as a stylist in the magazine industry. I interned with Schön! and Ponystep before taking on editor roles with 1883 Magazine and Boys by Girls, where I gained valuable industry experience. I miss London all the time but it was expensive, and while there were lots of opportunities, not a lot of them were paid but just for portfolio experience. I've since moved back to Canada and am now based in Toronto with representation as a freelance stylist by an agency called Plutino Group, which has given me the chance to work with brands and corporations like Nike, Little Burgundy, the National Ballet of Canada, etc. I'm also contributing as Fashion Director for TOM* Magazine but that is on a casual basis. I miss working full time with a magazine but I'm excited about the opportunities freelance is offering!
We're excited to see the places you go and your future endeavors, too!
Take a look at more of Chad's recent work by visiting Chad-Burton.com!