by Yumi Goto in New Photography on Monday 18 November 2013

I came across Yang Seungwoo’s work, Best Days, when he had an exhibition at Zen photo gallery in Tokyo. I didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition, but I have seen some of Seungwoo’s work online and saw Best Days book cover. Luckily I manage to get a friend to buy me the book. Then I wanted to meet Seungwoo, and my friend arrange a meeting with him.

He came to my place and we had a long chat. Seungwoo has a few project that he is working on in Tokyo and nearly every project he made a book dummy. Looking through those book dummies, it strikes me with the intricacy of Seungwoo’s toughts. One of the project was a self driven personal project exploring him and his life.

Seungwoo was part of a gangster group when he was young. He did some regrettable acts back in highschool days. He then left Korea and seek opportunity in Japan and wanted to change his life and has came across photography. Since then embark on a photography journey.

In my opinion his work is very powerful using the black and white aesthetic. He is naked in some of the photos, which I find very striking. I thought he take on a narcissism ideology, but after I asked him about why he uses him as a subject matter, I got an insight into Seongwoo’s work.

Seungwoo’s best friend committed suicide a while ago. His best friend has gradually being forgotten by his social circle after his death. He couldn’t find any photos of his friend and having difficulties to recall the memories back in the days. Seungwoo fear that his existence would vanish after his death. He wanted some parts of him to be remembered and so he started exploring his own life through the use of photography.

For me part of the truth of photography is to preserve a personal ‘memory’ and I think there is some honesty in Seungwoo’s work where he expose his private life. In my point of view preserving the memory is a key motivation in photography to find truth.

[the best days]
One of my old mates died
He committed suicide
But his dying changed now
The other lads will just forget him
I’ll forget him too
I looked for a photo so I could see his face
But there weren’t any
I thought he was me special mate
Sooner or later I’ll be gone too
It made me want to take photographs

Then I realised

We’re shit
But champions
As long as we live we’ll boast about this
What on earth were we thinking
But those days with the lads
And those days I spent wasthing time
Were the best days of my life
His death showed me how to live
I should have realised sooner
Maybe its too late
Now though
My Youth, Act Two begins
A better life

Q1. Why are you so committed to the subject matter of your photographs? Is there a personal connection to the matter?
This work shows mainly my childhood friend and school mates. When you look through the image, you can see they are not all mafia, but some of my old friends has became a Yakuzo member. In my case, I use to be very bad when I was young, but I am not part of mafia group.

Q2. What is the secret to creating intimacy with a subject, intimacy that translates to images?
There is no secret about this work. When I find interesting subjects that I would like to photograph, I would wonder around place and being around people and wait for people to approach me. After talking to them and building a trusting relationship, I would start photographing them. After I photograph the subjects, I would return and give as many print back to them as possible.

Q3. Why should these images be shown to the public?
This work is about documenting my background and a proof of my life. It is a very personal ongoing project that was not yet meant to be expose to the public. I have another body of work which I wanted to present. But after showing few of my work to various curators and photographers. The Best Days are more in favour, so I decided to exhibit the work. It is not my initial plan to show this work to the public. I think there is a desire for people to peep through another person’s private life. I am actually curious why a genuine person would be interested in this group of images.

Q4. Searching for truth in a photograph, in your series, which image best captures truth and why?
The image of Children jumping on a Graveyard (the photograph that looks like little mountain are graves in Korea).
I think the image shows reincarnation of life. The images is an expression towards life.