First Looks: The People of Seoul Fashion Week
We plucked photographer Daniel Stepney (@careers_in_korea) out of his usual portrait and documentary shoots, and placed him in the heart of Hera Seoul Fashion Week SS18 with his camera and free rein to shoot whatever caught his eyes.
Words & Photos Daniel Stepney
It was my first time shooting fashion, I had no idea what to expect. I was adamant that I would shoot something different to other photographers I was told were going to be there, but I wanted to shoot what was in front of me as objectively as possible. There were hundreds of photographers, but the dynamic was totally different to what I had expected.
I spend my picture-taking life trying to be subtle, to get shots of people in natural poses, linking them with the environment I find them in. Trying to capture who they are. Most people are shy; they don’t want their picture taken, especially not by a tall foreign man with a beard. Hera Seoul Fashion Week was different, the exact-opposite. People are craning for attention, asking you to take their picture, and striking up confident poses in milliseconds. That was for me both a blessing and a huge obstacle. It allowed me to sneak around with a big camera and happily snap away at anyone and everything, but as soon as someone noticed me, I wasn’t getting a picture of them, I was getting a version of them they turned themselves into in a instant. I know it sounds strange, but I don’t necessarily care if you look good in my photos, I want you with your guard down. And guards were super high that week.
To get round this, I fell back on what it is about photography that I know best — using my camera pretty much as a tool to get to know people and places, to get to the human side. And how do you get to the human side? Talking to people is a good start, but it’s not the easiest thing to do when your Korean is made up of a grand total of 5 poorly pronounced phrases. Nevertheless, it seems to work pretty well and fortunately for me, Fashion Week was very international. I think after the second day I realised that I wasn’t so much interested in what people were wearing, but why they were there and who they were. Were they working or visiting? Where were they from? What was their name? Did they want to get noticed? Did they want to check out any specific designers? Were they even enjoying themselves? Why had they chosen the outfit they had on at that particular moment?
I felt towards the end of the week that I was one of potentially only a handful of photographers who cared about the people they were taking pictures of, instead of the clothes they were wearing. Of course I don’t know this, I can’t read other photographers minds. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how caught up I got in the whole week. I began to recognize people, build tiny relationships, and get a feel for what the whole thing was about. I was captivated by the energy and the way people expressed themselves. Best of all, it seemed to me like everyone was having a really good time.
Either way the following images are a collection of the people who made up Seoul Fashion Week through my eyes.
This was one of the very first images that I took all week. After a lot of negotiation and haggling with the organisers, I was one of only 3 photographers allowed backstage and was standing no more than 40cm from the line-up of models waiting to head out. They were all chatting really informally and took almost no notice of me, which worked out great for me as this model turned to get a better look at his friends.
I took this image from my chest as I was walking into the backstage area and caught the model off guard. It’s really interesting for me because this is the only time during the whole week that I managed to get a photo of this model with anything but a huge smile on her face.
I love this shot because I have the direct eye contact of the model in a natural pose, set against the soft background of models posing for another photographer.
This is a model that my girlfriend had informed me of before the week started. I knew that HAN HYUN MIN was a kinda big figure and had spotted him in the make-up room. As he moved into a well lit area, I was the first photographer to get a shot at him. I bumped into him a few more times of the coming days and we began to smile and exchange brief hellos.
Just seconds after the shot above, and the other backstage photographers had managed to pull the model’s attention to my right. This shot was taken as they were preparing to pose for the other photographers.
Back in the backstage mêlée, I again managed to sneak the use of another photographer's flash to get this high contrast shot.
This shot was taken on my first venture backstage in one of the halls. I had just come out of the press area, and I saw these guys mid interview/shoot and managed to grab this shot.
Stood waiting to walk out into the hall, the lights were super dark, and music was playing really loud. Models were rushing to queue up in the correct order, being fussed over and directed by make up artists and production staff. The atmosphere was an electric mix of nerves, excitement and anticipation. I sneaked in and used another photographer’s flash as this model took his position in the line-up.
I wanted to get a photo that purveyed just a little bit of the craziness that is backstage just before the models head out. I managed to get a bit of eye-contact with this model just as a gap opened up in the queue and was able to sneak this image.
I think this is one of my favourite images of the whole week. I’d taken a number of pictures of this model on the course of the week, and when she came out of the dressing room in the backstage area for this show, there were a flood of photographers around her. I waited for the chaos to subside a little bit and took this shot as the other photographers moved away and she began talking to production staff. I love the graininess of the image and the bizarre (IMO) outfit .
I figured that since I had the option, I should probably go and watch a show from the POV of the public. I ran back round from backstage to get this shot of the model I’d just shot close-up backstage.
Backstage for pushBUTTON—my first backstage experience there and things were pretty hectic with a lot of cameras everywhere. The model stepped in front of the light for a split second and was called by a different photographer. In her moment of looking up, I managed to get the shot.
I’d identified the converted shipping containers as a good place to take shots early on in the week, but unfortunately, they were a little bit out of the way and very few people passed by. I’m a big fan of the white and green contrast in this shot. It was taken as the model was being directed by another photographer.
I met Mike on the first day of Seoul Fashion Week and learned that he had designed everything he was going to wear during the week. I got totally caught up in his enthusiasm for the event, the spectacle, and his clear love of fashion. By the 3rd day and after a few good conversations I’d managed to get close enough to him to get this portrait.
This shot was taken after the show that I had just watched Evan take part in. I approached him and we had a conversation about how it went. He told me it was his first time, and he was clearly buzzing with excitement. The energy between him and a few of the other foreign models had been really high, palpable. We had a good chat and then I asked for a shot and his face went from huge excitement to calm collection and a serious pose. I was shocked, impressed and disappointed by his professionalism all at the same time.
The DDP is an incredible architectural structure, and combining this with Seoul’s late October sunsets makes for some pretty special photo settings. I caught this shot mid-conversation, and I love the sunlight bouncing off the face.
I was backstage, super close to the models and testing what I could get away with. I actually held the camera from my chest for this shot, but the model had obviously clocked what I was doing and stared straight down the lens.
I took this one pretty sneakily. There was a photographer who had pulled them aside and was using the light of the sun setting on the hillside behind to set up the images. I jumped in as the male model had just switched out for the girl, and I wanted to capture the corner of the bus stop in my image. With the busy road in the background, to me it feels like the pair are waiting for a bus.
Red seemed to be a reoccuring theme in the first few days, and I was waiting for someone in red to walk past the red advertisment in the background. It turned out that I got a pair, and the combo of the different reds with the contrast of the yellow worked out even better. I asked these guys for their photo, took 5 or so, put my camera to the side for a second, and then took this shot as I was asking them a question. In doing so I managed to get an ever so slightly more relaxed image.
The combination of red hair and red jacket definitely drew me in. I was trying to capture the crowds reaction to the arrival of celebrities on the red carpet when this gent walked passed and I stopped him to grab a few shots. We had a broken conversation about fashion week and this was my favourite of the few shots I got. I love the contrast of red to blue.
get another perspective of Seoul Fashion Week through SIDER by Rose Ng.
view our SFW SS18 collection reviews & backstage galleries: