“…The practice of taking photos, for me, lies between the unconscious and the conscious. When complex emotions and thoughts occur, I pick up my camera…” – Youngchul Kim
Feeling Before Seeing, the debut monograph by South Korean photographer Youngchul Kim, poetically embodies the medium’s reflexive power.
Winner of the Sony Korea Photography Award in 2020, Kim, who was born in Seoul, is a photographer and filmmaker, and the co-founder of creative studio, Salt. He began photographing during his teens, inspired by the likes of William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, Andre Kertesz, Nan Goldin, and Alec Soth. He went on to study photography in London, after which he returned to his homeland.
Though on the surface, at least, photography appears an essentially transcriptive process, it does not in fact portray absolute truth. Each image, no matter how forthright, is actually a subjective vision, one devoid of context or background (particularly those not accompanied by text) that often tells us more about the photographer than the subject. This is at the heart of these images, for each is an expression of Kim’s transient sensibility (at the moment he clicked the lens).
Captured over a nine-year period, fragments of daily life in disparate places across the world are transcribed and offered without narrative or agenda. Thoughtfully curated, they weave a compelling allegory, connected by a muted rhythm of subtle tones.
Collectively they demonstrate Kim’s impressive eye for color and considerable dexterity. Yet more compellingly, they also express the distinct sensibility of an artist who, by his own admission, has faced numerous challenges in forging a creative practice that is fundamentally intertwined with his state of mind.
These are something more complex; more reserved; quieter, at times, even withdrawn (both literally and figuratively). Human subjects often convey a pensiveness, even a melancholy: sitting, staring into space, their eyes closed, or with head in hands.
In his concluding notes, Kim reflects on using photography as a means of processing complex emotions, and it is perhaps instructive that almost, if not all the images, have been captured in places outside of his homeland. Despite the often innocuous nature of the subject matter, Paris, California, London, and other more provincial areas of the British Isles are all discernible.
Perhaps they are manifestations of Kim’s longing, the unshakable wistfulness that often lingers deep within the soul when one is away from home for long periods of time. Yet human emotion is complex and multifarious, and whilst photographs invariably reflect the disposition of the photographer at the time of their creation, their meanings are not concrete. With time, and, filtered through the subconscious of each respective viewer, their meanings change and evolve. And, for the author at least, these images are imbued with a distinct sense of hope.
“A photograph expresses the complexly intertwined emotions one has when capturing a certain moment, but it also exists separately, independent of both the individual and time. It is in this that I feel liberated from those emotions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but through that liberation, my life continued on. These images testify to that”.