The project '1km, 101portraits' is 101 portraits of women that I met on ‘1km’, a mobile chatting application which tells who is around by distance.
I was introduced to the app 5-6 years ago. My local Korean friends and in Seoul often talked about girls they met on the app. Although I was not on it at that time, I was curious who those girls were and what made them doing it. I had seen some photographers published portraits of their online dates. But when I decided to make this my project, I wanted to take it a little more deeply and try to see who they are as who truly they are.
I much enjoyed working on set as a lighting technician and photo assistant, but at the same time I had a strong desire for working on my own photography project. I closed my nine years of New York life and moved back to Seoul in 2013 to make it happen. I stumbled first one and half year to research for the project as well as to settle down in Seoul. I had the first shoot for this project in February 2015 then it took two another full years to invite 101 individuals to my studio.
I approached randomly via private messages. I introduced myself and asked for a portrait. Some happily accepted my offer but the most did not understand my purpose, doubted this was an ice breaker for dating offline or just a scam. Although I was fully aware of the characteristics of the app, but it was not easy to gain their trust. Also endless encouragement to provoke their shyness was needed must both on the app and on set.
I met my subjects without prejudice and paid undivided attention to what they say about themselves. After having a conversation with each person, I asked my subject to express herself, her current state of mind or just anything on a sheet of plain paper. Then I worked on building a set accordingly and tried to interpret what I heard and seen onto pictures. I assigned usually 4-6 sheets of film on each shoot and spared more time for conversations.
My models often said they had never expected that they were going to talk much about themselves. Some said they felt like they were having a therapy session. I realized people barely listen to the others in the world that we live in now.
I intended this project to show different personalities and diverse characters of these online girls in the beginning. I tried to be objective and have as broad a point of view as possible while meeting them. But I kept seeing myself in the results when I started looking at them together at the end of the project. Richard Avedon’s quote crossed in my mind, “My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.”
1km is the most popular chatting app in South Korea. People can look at others’ information, photos and posts. You can chat to another privately or join clubs for different group activities. You can filter out who you want to see or block if you do not want to be bothered. Throughout teens to 40's but early to mid 20’s are the most. Not like other famous social networks which tend to reflect real life and social relations, you can hide yourself and make up another identity, or be anonymous in the app if desired. Not only people talk to strangers and look for a date, but also many let their personal feelings and stories out on 1km.
All portraits are made with 4x5 large format.