The Seoul Fashion Report was recently asked to participate in a project designed to attract attention to one of Korea's recently anointed UNESCO World Heritage site, the Namhansanseong Fortress (남한산성), which was the back up capital city during Korea's Joseon Dynasty. The idea was to design an event that would attract some South Korea's most influential foreign bloggers and content producers. The problem was that, despite the undeniably important historical and cultural significance of the site, ancient structures of great cultural and archaeological importance are often not the most compelling subjects to bring people from near and far to cover through words and pictures.
That's where we came in. In the conversation with Tae-Hoon Lee, who had initially been tasked with this event by the Public Diplomacy group (공공외교) created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a picnic on the UNESCO world heritage site. I suggested mixing the best and brightest aspects of Korean contemporary culture with the historically weighty, beautiful background of the Namhansanseong site. Photographically speaking, this made perfect sense since the site would provide a beautiful visual backdrop against any pretty posing that would be done by models in front of it, making for a great visual space in which to combine elements of Korean culture, both old and new. I had full faith that it would work out beautifully, but first, work had to be done to just get out to the site with the camera and actually plan angles and times of shooting. What became the working question during the scouting expedition was simply where to place people in relation to the backgrounds and where specific shooting concepts would be staged, as in the specific places where models would stand and cameras would fire. Everything looked good in theory as of a few days before the event. In terms of lighting and where B shadows would fall from about 5 or 6 PM, everything looked good for the plan of offering a short photo workshop and an opportunity to photographers of various levels of skill and experience to shoot live models in the fashion genre, while also offering an opportunity to shoot on one of the worlds most important historical sites as a bonus.
And thusly hast God wrought. While wrangling the models together and getting them to the site was somewhat touch and go, akin to the proverbial task of "herding cats", the shoot was upbeat and interesting for everyone, which helped result in good pictures. The mix of seemingly divergent cultural elements made for a new, syncretic fusion that wasn't forced or stilted but rather reminiscent of a surprisingly pleasant melange so compelling that it simply begs to be re-created later, again and again. It also seemed quite in keeping with the apt description of the culture here as "dynamic" -- as channeled through the former tourism slogan "Dynamic Korea."
Of course, as with all good ideas, they are often remixes and borrowings from other good ideas. I had always been impressed with what I saw in the well-planned and immaculately executed Korean Cultural Heritage Show, which I had the privilege to shoot as a runway photographer back in October, 2011. Here are a few shots from that show, which was the first and only time I have seen a runway show done on the grounds of one of Korea's most important and famous cultural sites, the Gyeongbok Palace in the center of downtown Seoul.
That was one of the most amazing show sites I had ever seen in my entire life, and that experience informed the idea I had for mixing elements of old and new in the present. One might note that technically, the traditional Korean culture theme of that show offered itself as a unifying element between fashion and the traditional structure in which the 2011 show had taken place -- a more natural fit between the historical and the sartorial. However, despite the fact of this more natural "fit", it must be noted that the link provided by the common element of Korean tradition was spurious at best. Notwithstanding the fact that the clothing in the show was inspired by Korean tradition, the chronological and cultural distance between the modern spin on Korean traditional clothing and the actual hanbok that would have been appropriate to be worn at the time is so great as to render that putative link of Korean "tradition" both academic and irrelevant. Basically, many of the models were walking completely modern Korean clothing down the runway, creating a fascinating artistic energy from the anachronistic tension between the clothing and the backdrop. The only times where the venue and the clothing came together to present to the audience a vision directly from Korea's Joseon Dynasty past were in instances in which Korean traditional hanbok were walked down the runway, where the clothing in itself where unaltered and unadulterated artifacts from a time long gone. While that is surely the instinctive and natural fit between clothing and the environment, this"Total fit" was merely one of several delectable morsels on offer in the feast for the eyes during that event. Click on the gallery below to be quickly walked through the hanbok part of the show.
In all the several senses of the words, old and new had been truly, effectively fused. And it was a beautiful sight to see.