Kim Sihyun (@sihyunhada) is Korea's most sought out photographer. Reservations for her photo sessions are consistently booked within seconds. In this interview Sihyun explains the artistic and sociological intentions behind her Identification (ID) Photo Project that distinctly captures the shining individuality of Korea's youth today.
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Interpretation Kelly Min, Photos Kim Sihyun
Hello! Please introduce yourself!
Sihyun: Hello, my name is KIM SI HYUN (@sihyunhada). The Hyun, in Chinese characters, means “giving to others”. I’m currently a college student majoring in Photography. I actually started majoring in Photography because I wanted my own studio. In Korea it is difficult to obtain studio space without the proper credentials. In order to start preparing for my studio, I recently started the Identification (ID) Photo Project — which has gotten more attention than expected, so at the moment, I am taking a gap year to work solely on the project.
What’s the ID Photo Project about?
Sihyun: My thought going into the project was that ID photos had the potential to best represent the current trends. For instance, when going into the photo studio to get an ID photo taken, the client would wear clothing and accessories and do their hair and make-up in a manner that reflects the latest trends. In order to represent the population of Korea in a year, one would need at least 1,000 pieces of data for it to be considered a legitimate data sample. So I set the number of portraits to be taken to 1,000 and started archiving not only the photos but also the trends and culture of the people. As of now I’ve photographed over 300 people!
What is your method for taking ID photos?
Sihyun: Identification pictures in Korea are generally seen as something that one must do in a standard way. It isn’t seen as a form of art, as it can be a repetitive process. There’s a white background, a certain type of lighting, and a face positioned in a certain angle. However, an identification photo, to me, is a picture that truly holds a person’s identity. I want to capture one’s true colors in the portrait. I don’t want to use an unnecessary amount of photoshop to cover one’s so-called flaws—everyone is beautiful in their own way. I want the person to be satisfied with how they are represented, as they are. I can add little touches, but I try not to dramatically change any feature on anyone.
Please walk us through a shoot from beginning to end!
Sihyun: The whole process takes 30 minutes. When the customer comes in, we talk about the background color, then we discuss which angle and lighting would best suit them. Then the background color gets put up, along with the lighting that best suits the image that they desire. For instance, darker lighting would give off a hardcore more serious ambience than brighter lighting. After the photo shoot, rather than photoshopping on my own, the client stays and works on the process together with me. We go over quick fixes such as the tone of the background color and make-up touchups. I think as a woman I can sympathize more with what one desires in the picture. It also helps that I drew a lot of portraits of people and became aware that a small change could make a big difference. Then I print the pictures and we’re done!
Advice for customers coming in for the shoot?
Sihyun: I want them to choose their background color carefully. There’s a certain feeling that a color gives off. I tell them not to choose a color that they think would suit them but instead to choose their favorite color— I’ll make sure that it suits them!
Have you noticed a pattern for what kind of person makes a reservation?
Sihyun: I didn’t mean to set an age group, as I wanted to represent present-day Korea, but most customers range from high schoolers to people in their thirties. They are usually people who are comfortable using social media, as most of my promotions are done via Instagram.
You previously mentioned that you’re taking a gap year from school...
Sihyun: I took two gap years. One after my freshman year and one now. During my first gap year, I worked in a big studio because my parents wanted me to work for a big corporation rather than setting up my own studio. However, I felt that the environment provided wasn’t ideal for me, so I quit after a year.
What did you find unsatisfactory about the big studio?
Sihyun: Working as a woman was hard, especially in big studios. One has to carry around heavy equipment, and I felt that I needed to dress up in a certain way or I would be asked why I was dressed in an “informal manner”. There was also the fact that my period would drastically control my condition and there would be comments about “how it came back" every time. I'd like to have children in the future and in Korean society, it is frowned upon to have the children be raised by someone else. Therefore, I want to create a private studio where my children can come and do as they wish.
What other services do you provide?
There are three options when making a reservation. Option 1 is the ID photo shoot. Option 2 is for a profile photo shoot. Usually only aspiring models, actors and actresses take profile pictures, but I wanted to show that normal, everyday people could also have shoots like this done that they would be able to treasure for a long time. Rather than just sending the files to the customer after shoot, I also print out a large poster so that they could cherish the experience more. Option 3 is a video format. These days, aspiring models, actors, actresses also include a short clip of themselves. The client would plan the video shoot along with a crew—it would be a collaborative process where they would be able to express themselves.
Sihyun: I want to finish my project—I would like to archive the photos and create an exhibition. I want to arrange it by color—people who pick the same shades would most likely give off the same vibe. It would be a set of data where you could see which color was used the most, for instance. After the exhibition, I want to set up my own private studio. Not only will I take portraits, but also family portraits— I want to take pictures that people would cherish for a long time!
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