In this era, where technology is constantly invading our lives, the people still able to notice the subtle charm that surrounds us is sadly becoming fewer and fewer.
Born and raised in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, Ja Soon Kim is one of them few. She captures -in a magnificent way- the beauty in ordinary things that, for most of us, would otherwise go unnoticed.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Seoul, Korea, and have lived in New York City, Paris, Maui, Honolulu and Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA is what I call now home. I teach yoga and meditation as a yoga instructor.
You worked as an art director. Can you tell us a bit more about it and about how you made the transition to being a photographer?
I was an art director and a creative director for advertising agencies in Honolulu. I started my own graphic design firm afterwards. I worked with many great photographers those days. I still don’t call myself a photographer; I feel I need to earn that title, so I am working on that.
Do you plan what you will collect? Is it more like “Today, I want to look for flowers” or more like “I’m taking the mood/feel from a particular home area to recreate a location”?
When I first started on Instagram, I noticed that there were a lot of landscapes… I wanted to share images that are different and truly who I am.
I don’t usually have plans. I was always interested in looking closer at ordinary things around me. As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I find meditative aspect of arranging things very calming. As I always like to say, when you look from the depth of your heart, everything is beautiful.
I started looking around to see what to share. I took pictures of what I found on my walks, hikes..., and that evolved into what I do now.
What is the message that you are telling us through your art?
I have no messages... I trust the viewer to feel what they will with my images. I am advocating absolutely nothing. One must see what one sees through their own eyes and come to their own conclusions.
Do you have a workspace where you store all your items? What do you do with them after the picture is taken?
Most things go into compost. I don’t have a special studio or workspace. I shoot almost everything in my living room with the natural light that comes through a big window. No artificial lights. I prefer the shadows and natural gradation that happens with available light, so soft and real.
I bought some equipment for a commission but I ended up not using it.
I do save some things and then reuse them. I think you can see that in my pictures. Many are things I already have.
The only photographic equipment I use -besides the cameras- is the tripod and some background material; mostly black or white poster boards or plywood painted with black and white on either side. The whole setup is very low-tech and organic.
When I am traveling, I work with whatever is around. I made a couple of pictures with things on my black shirt and white shirt while I was in Tahiti recently with @tinyatlasquarterly. My camera and lenses are the only serious equipment I own. I want to keep it that way.
How did you start doing flat lays? Were you inspired by other artists?
I had never heard of “flat lays” but yes, I did see some pictures that were just arranged things so I started to do that. Although, my images evolved on their own over the years. Most things you see in them have no intrinsic value at all.
You have a very large following on Instagram. Why did you pick this medium to share your art?
I am a painter by education; I do draw and paint but I haven’t shared it on Instagram. My daughter downloaded the app while visiting me. I really didn’t want it but she thought I would enjoy it. I didn’t even know how to post! Eventually I learned, although I still have much to learn as I am pretty clueless about more sophisticated editing skills.
What advice could you give to new photographers? Is there something that you learned in your career that you’d wish you had known earlier?
I do think the artistic eye is something we either have or not. The most important aspect is to be true to oneself. Honesty shows in the work.
I think the most important thing is to observe closely. Find your own eye and cultivate that. Do not be discouraged: the more you do, the better you will be, like all skills. Know that you have a unique perspective on things and that it is your task to discover it. Respect your inner vision.
When I am out in nature, sometimes I lose myself. I am no longer identifying myself with who I think I am but just be present to what is around me. This is a beautiful state to be but this experience can’t be planned or wished. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it completely clears my head. This is my medication…
— Ja Soon Kim
What do you like about Fujifilm cameras?
What I love the most about Fujifilm cameras are the colors, they are astounding! I also love the smaller size and weight and how it feels in my hands. It has many new features that makes shooting easy, i.e. two slots for memory cards, the ability to send the pictures directly to your iPhone etc...
I am partial to Fujifilm as I grew up with an avid amateur photographer, my father. He was a businessman in Seoul, but his passion was photography. Many weekends he would leave with his camera equipment to what can only be described as “instameet” situation. A group of photographers would meet in beautiful locations in Seoul with models and shoot all day long.
I still have some of those pictures. He developed all his own pictures in all sizes. He built a darkroom and spent more time there than my mother would have liked, but I loved hanging around that room with all the chemicals, trays, clothes, hangers...
We have inherited loads of old b/w photographs from him from those outings. He also shot thousands of pictures of us.
Most of my pictures are shot with the Fujinon XF35mm F1.4, a great everyday lens. I shoot with other lenses but I love the honesty and zero distortion of this one.