Better Days


An interview with Seunggu Kim

Earlier in the year, Korean photographer Seunggu Kim won our Open Call theme with a stunning image depicting leisure time in Seoul – a shot of a packed swimming complex taken a from a remote vantage point, the multi-color sprinkles-like details of the foreground in contrast with the flat, lifeless cityscape behind. Dense and busy with the chaos of life, it shows a world we might not experience again for some time.

Keen to know more – about the image, the series Better Days from which it is from, and his development in photography – we put some questions to Kim…

Hi Seunggu. Firstly, a belated congratulations on winning our Open Call theme judged by Martin Parr. Can you tell us a little bit about your winning image, and what you thought of Parr’s comments?

It’s an honor to hear Martin Parr’s simple and clear comment about the picture. It comes from my series Better Days which explores urban leisure practices in my home country of Korea. This is my series statement: Korea has been developed rapidly over the last 40 years, which has created a lot of social ironies. One such irony is long working hours with very short periods of break. During the holidays, Koreans try their best to enjoy themselves, but due to lack of time to travel, they mostly stay close to the city. This collective leisure and its spatial environment reveal the attitude of Koreans living with optimism and a sense of community despite social constraints.

Where did the idea for this series come from, and what were you hoping to communicate with it?

In a way it’s sad to see people spend their leisure time in this intense way, but at the same time their optimistic attitude toward life is heartening. People living in cities can suffer from unbalanced desires and isolation of relationships, but I hope these pictures will give people optimism, and a chance to think about community spirit.

And from a technical perspective, how are the images achieved? The level of detail is incredible, and it can’t be easy to always find a high and distant vantage point to photograph from…

For a good point of view I climb buildings, bridges and mountains. In many cases access is restricted or dangerous and so I often fail to get the image I want. In that case, I constantly re-visit and try to find new locations or ways of access.