Project Update: 여자들

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

I started this project some years ago. I started it with the intention of completing it. It had gotten some traction in the community.

Then life sort of got in the way.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

The premise of the project came about when I was taking photos of a friend. She wanted me to take photos of her tattoo. While taking the photos she started telling me about the impact something like a tattoo has on a girl’s life here in Korea. She explained to me how her aunt had called her a slut the first time she saw it.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

She felt dirty. I can understand. Being called a slut by your aunt can’t be easy. She then continued to explain more deeply about different cultural implications things like this have on women here.

Smoking, for example.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

Smoking isn’t a good habit. I personally don’t like it at all. That being said, it is a choice and not usually one that directly relates to how you see a person. Here, girls hide that they smoke. Quite hard to even see a girl smoking unless you’re looking. At least, compared to how easy it is to see men smoking.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

A sad reality. These types of double standards aren’t exclusive to Korea. They exist all over the world. I just find that here, the hypocrisy is more obvious. Almost all of my male friends smoke and think nothing of it. One of their girlfriends smokes and when we are sitting around the pub it is a topic of conversation. It makes little sense. Most of them have tattoos as well. I mentioned this fact recently and they told me the culture is changing. Tattoos no longer signify “gangster” as they once did. I asked simply if their girlfriends have tattoos. The look I got in return was answer enough.

 

My friend wanted to be photographed in a motel. At first, I didn’t get it. She explained that motels are also culturally taboo. People all act as though going there is the dirtiest thing they might ever do. It is ironic in that everyone goes to them. It is just something people do. Yet, I showed one of the photos from this series to my group of male friends and asked them what they thought of the girl. They all thought she must be a prostitute because she was in a motel, smoking, and has a tattoo.

She’s a student at one of the best universities in Korea. These guys go to motels with their girlfriends once or twice a week. They all smoke. Many have tattoos.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

There are other things I want this project to explore. Age, is another. Women of a certain age and social standing become “ajjumas” here. It isn’t an affectionate term, per say. It isn’t quite negative either. The women who are divorced or who have never been married on the other hand, are often looked upon more negatively.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

Other parts of society as well. Foreigners or “waygookin-dul” often face some issues that stem from a similar mindset. As a foreigner myself, I can attest to this.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Korea. I love living here. It isn’t all negative, not even close. I think much of what I mentioned is slowly changing. I suppose, for the people here I love and care about I wish it would change more quickly.

I’m not sure where this project is going to go or if it is even going to go anywhere. I do feel like it is something worth exploring. I suppose though, just like that last time, life could just keep getting in the way.

We shall see.

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From “여자들.” Seoul, South Korea.

12 thoughts on “Project Update: 여자들

    • Well, imagine living in a place where everything is at least as convenient or more so than any western country. I live three blocks from two Starbucks (not that I love Starbucks but as an example of how it is here compared to a western mindset) and to a Korean I live in the countryside. Moreover, it is so safe that it is almost comical. I could walk down literally any street in the whole of Korea at any hour of any day with $10,000 strapped to my forehead and the worst thing that would ever happen is someone would ask me to put it away in case I lost it. As a more realistic example. I once left a Leica M240 (maybe $6500) and a 35mm Summilux (another $2500 or so) on a cafe table and went to work. 8 hours later I returned to the cafe in a panic having realized what I’d done only to find it sitting on the same table exactly where I left it. A friend of mine didn’t believe that story until he came here and left his phone on a park bench. A man missed work in order to return his phone to the police station and await its safe return. That isn’t even getting into the very good health care system, the amazing transportation system, and the fact that generally speaking foreigners are treated very well here. It has it warts, like any country, but I like it enough to be buying a house next week ha.

      • Sounds like paradise compared with Britain, too. It would be interesting to hear something of what it is that makes it so safe like that, cultural influences of respect for others, less materialism or perhaps there are just fewer inequalities there…. Anyway, I think this is a very worthwhile project as it has social purpose underpinning it which I think is sadly absent in a lot of photography these days. The pictures are also interesting to look at particularly from the point of view of the western gaze and the project would make a fine book, I’m sure.

  1. Awesome photos and an important and meaningful topic……not to mention, timely. I for one will be rooting for life to share the stage until you can finish this project!

  2. Hey I always love these updates… This one is especially edgy and insightful to Korean Culture. So ironic that double standard, not fair to women at all but hey, you capture it here in your photos. Reminds me of Oscar Barnack stuff I see all the time… thanks for posting!

  3. Your project, Josh, has one name: intimacy. Your intimacy with your subject, your intimacy with the subtle or not-so-subtle cultural traits of the society you have chosen to live your life within. It twists our western heads twice over, as we may have our own prejudices getting in the way of ‘reading’ you images which may or may not be the same. But first and foremost, intimacy as in being so close there’s virtually no gap between your lens and her, between your lens and her mind, between your mind and hers. It’s absolutely powerful, just keep going, I’m first on the list of would-be collectors for your book when you push it out of your system.

  4. Hi Josh, a worthwhile project, I say worth persisting with, no matter how long it takes. I am married to a Korean and I am lucky her family are very cool, but some others are less so. For example, a divorced woman and single mother in Korea is a tough gig (as it is anywhere), and even if the man is the one who cheated, or was abusive and violent (often all at once), he is able to get on with his life far more easily than the woman. I have seen it, and more than once, but also I have seen men make up for their misdeeds, so I wouldn’t wish to tar and feather everyone. I know things are changing, and Korea is one example (hey it happens here in Australia more than people like to say). Best of luck and cheers for taking this on.

  5. I had the chance of being in Seoul (itaewon area and Gangnam) and Dongtan for the most part of a month, and it was amazing… The people is so warm and helpful with everyone. I hope I can go back soon

    • Glad you enjoyed your time. Quite honestly I avoid itaewon like the plague. It’s probably my least favorite place in the whole of Korea, ha. Perhaps if you visit again do some more ‘korean’ areas 😉

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