Interview: Jung Kim
July 27 2014
Jung Kim cut her photographic teeth at Parsons before moving on to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. But while her formative years were spent in fashion, her style is refreshingly unpretentious—straightforward, intimate, introspective. It’s this cultural sensitivity and ability to, as she puts it, “be a fly on the wall” that has made her into a skilled storyteller, and she’s spent the better part of her career shooting bands and musicians that have come to define our generation.
While she’s become well-known for her music portraiture, it’s a long-term collaboration with cult icon Daniel Johnston that has come to define her work in recent years. Her monograph, DANIEL JOHNSTON: here, is the culmination of five years spent documenting the idiosyncratic, contemplative life of the truly one-of-a-kind artist. (For any uninitiated out there, do give his music a listen—his earlier tapes, especially, are a revelation.)
We caught up with our friend Jung on the road to talk about influences, Kickstarter potato salad, and her fledgling publishing venture, Analog New York.
You studied at Parsons, and then spent time at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. That’s one hell of a start for a young photographer!
Ha, yeah I guess I’ve always been a bit of a go-getter! I interned at Harper’s Bazaar for two summers in a row while I was at Parsons and learned a ton, then was offered a job at Teen Vogue as a Photo Research Editor during my senior year which I took without hesitation. Few years after that I ended up at Vogue for nearly 5 years. These were jobs that gave me so much knowledge in photography and art because I had to frequently dig through archives and research. From Hoyningen-Huene, Penn to Avedon, they provided me with loads of inspiration for my own work as a photographer.
Your roots are in Korea, but you’ve been in New York for quite a while. How does one home inform the other in your work?
Well, I was born in Seoul and spent my childhood years there before moving to Rhode Island for several years with my family, but I’ve lived in New York City the longest. Seoul and NYC are similar in some ways as major cities go, but culturally very different, and even more so from Seoul to RI. I think when I see potential to experience something unfamiliar – and quite frankly the opposite of what I know – whether it be a city or a person, it makes me want to explore with my camera. So one home may not inform the other in a clear conscious manner but it’s there in the subjects I tend to gravitate towards like Daniel Johnston and Jason Pierce whose backgrounds can’t be further from mine and I’m completely fascinated.
How did you become friends with Daniel Johnston?
I had been wanting to work with him for ages and one day I decided to write to his brother, who is also one of his managers, to see if I could. Four months later I received a reply inviting me to shoot backstage at one of his shows in Brooklyn. I was ecstatic, and even more so while working with Daniel because we got along so well and something of magic appeared on those rolls of film. I just knew it wasn’t going to be the last time, and after five years of working together, I’m lucky to call him my friend.
You were pretty early on Kickstarter with here, and it was definitely a successful campaign. But with the whole potato salad debacle, has the platform lost its appeal for serious projects?
It’s funny you should bring this up because the potato salad guy started following me on Twitter yesterday! Coincidence aside, his “project” definitely raises a lot of important questions and obvious controversy. From the perspective of someone who’s poured 5 years of blood, sweat and tears into her own passion project, I can see how other serious creators might feel frustrated when a project’s an obvious mockery of the whole platform. It sort of degrades the purpose and depth of genuine passion projects that are on there and deserve every dollar. Having said that, I don’t think it’s any accident that the smart folks at Kickstarter approved this project to begin with. The platform hasn’t lost its appeal for me because it’s been such a consistently vital tool for so many wonderful projects despite maybe being overshadowed from time to time—it’s going to happen, and will keep us talking about them.
Other than Daniel, you’re pretty well known for your work with musicians in general. How do you approach capturing a band?
I really enjoy studying musicians and artists of all types with my camera—people are the most interesting creatures to me. If I could be invisible and have a voyeuristic perspective all the time, it would keep me engaged forever. So being able to go on tour with musicians and bands, documenting intimate moments and basically being a fly on the wall with nothing off-limits is my favorite approach. Then from that building of trust, I’m able to capture even better portraits.
What’s in your camera bag these days?
I’ve been shooting a lot with the first camera I ever owned which is a Nikon FM10. It’s my favorite camera to travel with, and has become a great every day camera as well. So, just that and a whole lot of film!
Instagram: a photographer’s friend or foe?
Friend. Because the friend is fun and they don’t let you take yourself too seriously, at least for a little while.
What can you tell us about your new publishing project?
Starting a small indie publishing house was something I wanted to do for a while, specifically for photography books by photographers who are still shooting with film and instant film as their main medium of choice. I made myself the guinea pig by publishing “DANIEL JOHNSTON: here” under my own publishing company Analog New York. The amount of positive feedback and features for the first book has been amazing and I’m hoping this momentum keeps going for another book project because I have so many young talented photographers in mind whom I’d love to publish.
Special thanks to Dick Johnston for the snapshot of Daniel & Jung.