Unleashing Dreams, Starting With a Lens
Unleashing Dreams, Starting With a Lens
  • Jo Yoo Suyeon
  • 승인 2024.04.01 10:00
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Do you love taking pictures? Photography is loved by many people for its capacity to capture the emotions felt in the moment in a single shot. Depending on what you put in front of the lens, the outcome and mood of the picture varies. This SMT Reporter met Kim Myung-jung, a photographer who is pursuing his dreams in various fields beyond looking at the world through a lens.


Please introduce yourself before the interview begins.

Hello, everyone. I am Kim Myung-jung, AKA MJ Kim, working as a photographer, filmmaker, and a writer. I like to describe myself as a dreamer who is working hard in many different fields.


You began learning about photography while studying abroad in the UK. We're curious to know how you chose photography as your field of study.

I didn't initially think that I would like to study photography. After failing to get into university, I was just getting by, and at that time, cable channels were just getting started in Korea. This led to an increase in jobs related to broadcasting, and I started working in broadcasting part-time too, which sparked my interest in that field. While exploring different places to learn about broadcasting and film, I happened to end up in London, UK. Although I managed to get into the London College of Communication, I had a hard time keeping up with the classes due to my insufficient English skill. But then I found photography as a possible minor, and since photography doesn't require a lot of English, as it involves working alone rather than communicating with other people, I thought that it would suit me. That's how I started out at first: just wanting to get a good grade.


We'd like to hear about the challenges you faced while studying abroad and how you overcame them.

First of all, language was the biggest problem, as it was difficult to communicate in English. Also, at that time, the exchange rate went up a lot due to the 1997 financial crisis in Korea. Affected by this situation, the economic part was also a challenge for me as I should have been financially independent rather than receiving support from my family back home. I overcame these obstacles by challenging myself and facing them one by one.


You started as a photojournalist for an international newspaper, and took photos of performances by various artists as well. We're curious how you broadened your field from a press photographer to a professional photographer of artists.

In the early 2000s, the entertainment industry began to boom, and there was a lot of entertainment news that hadn't been covered much before. At that time, some photojournalists were reluctant to cover entertainment news as they thought the role of a journalist was to cover major social issues rather than the entertainment industry. I started working as a photojournalist for economic reasons rather than such a mission, so I worked hard in entertainment whenever I had the opportunity. After a few years, I think I became a photojournalist who worked quite a lot in entertainment and expanded my field of photography to include music, award shows, portraits, etc. When I became a freelancer, my first job was as a photographer for the Spice Girls' reunion tour. From there, I connected with various celebrities, especially Paul McCartney, who I met around 2007 and have been working with ever since.



It seems that not only performers who can make audiences feel a wide range of emotions through their songs and performances but also photographers who can capture the moment and make one feel present just by looking at their photos are artists too. From your years of working with Paul McCartney, what did you learn from him, both artistically and as a human?

Even though Paul McCartney is an international star who has been around for a long time, he always works hard at whatever he does and is very humble. I've learned a lot from him not only as an artist, but also as a person, as an adult in life. He is always passionate, open-minded, and not afraid to try new things. And learning those things by his side meant a lot to me. For that reason, I think I was constantly researching photography angles, equipment, etc. to satisfy him, and that helped me improve little by little. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back, I think I've grown a lot as a photographer as I had a mentor like him who was always there to help and push me.


Depending on the purpose of the photo and the subject matter, the way of taking a photo seems to have changed. Do you have a particular mindset or photography technique that changes depending on those factors?

As a mindset, the one thing that's common is the idea that whether it's a famous client or an ordinary person, you should take a picture where the person is the main character. I try to have the mindset that every subject is precious, and I want them to be happy when they look at the photos that I've taken. That's the basic mindset, and then the method changes a little bit depending on the subject's profession or what they're using the photos for.


In 2020, you captured the timeless beauty of Euljiro and the artisans living there through your photography exhibition "Hey, Mr. Mokhyung. Why Mr. Jumul." How did you become involved with this project?

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with a company in the delivery business, Baemin. Kim Bong-jin, the founder and CEO of Baemin, told me that artisans in Euljiro were losing their homes due to redevelopment, and he felt sad as he had received a lot of support from them during college days. So, he wanted to do something for them and asked me to photograph them. After I accepted the job, I lived in Euljiro for three months, ate and drank with the artisans to get closer to them. Then I spent the next three months working on the actual project. Originally, the exhibition was going to be held in a rented place in Euljiro, but the Sejong Center offered their space to us. After some thinking, we concluded that it would be great for the artisans and their families to come and see the exhibition in a meaningful place like the Sejong Center and decided to hold it there. Unexpectedly, many young people came to see the photos and were moved to tears, and I thought it was very meaningful.



In recent years, recording moments through the act of taking photos seems to have become a part of people's daily lives. What do you think is the appeal of photography?

I think the first appeal is that as photography doesn't require any special skills, anyone can do it. The second appeal is that photography is a way to freeze our fast-paced lives. Being able to freeze a moment in time and capture memories and emotions in a frame is the most intrinsic beauty of photography. I think the display of the photos and the use of various equipment are secondary, and the essence of photography is the preservation of people and history.


You have been active in various fields in addition to photography. We would like to know why you decided to write your book, "Taking Pictures of Life Again Today," which tells the story of your life, and what you wanted to convey to the readers.

The reason I wrote this book was to give people who don't have good resumes, who are frustrated, who don't have the courage to move forward, a story of possibility by talking about my experiences of overcoming obstacles. For example, I didn't speak English well, and I had financial difficulties. However, I managed to make it one step at a time. I wrote it with the hope that young people would read it and be encouraged by my failures rather than focusing on my career achievements. Unexpectedly, a lot of parents read it and told their children about it, which was impressive.



Film, which is another area you've worked in, seems to have similar characteristics to photography in that it captures an object on screen, yet differs in that it records a continuous flow rather than a moment in time. What inspired you to become interested in film, going so far as to make a short film?

At first, I vaguely had the idea that it would be amazing to make something with video. However, as I ended up going down the path of photography, I had pretty much given up on this dream. A Japanese friend of mine, who I was close with as an undergraduate student and who became a filmmaker, would always say nice things to me whenever we met, that one day I would be a filmmaker and that he would produce my movie. After hearing this for many years, I was so grateful to him that I thought, "Let me at least write a synopsis or something to show him." and put it into action. Meanwhile, a producer I knew in Hollywood read my synopsis and suggested that I make a movie, so I made a short film.


Since you've been thinking about films for so long, it seems like you have a deep interest in them. What is it about films that you find so appealing?

The first thing about film is that I can see a group of professionals working together, and I think that's what makes it so special: the director, the cinematographer, the art, the lighting, the actors, and so on. Watching that, I felt that this was why they call it a multidisciplinary art. The second reason why I love film is that I get to share with the audience the things that I think about and want to talk about.



Without limitations on fields, are there any people you'd like to work with?

I don't necessarily have a specific person that I want to work with. I think anybody who's just doing their job and doing it well would be great. Or somebody who doesn't get caught up in their own status, and people who have been working in their field for a long time because I can respect them. Even if they haven't been in a field for long, I think it would be nice to work with those who are passionate and humble.


Seeing you continue to challenge yourself in many different areas makes us excited for the future. Do you have any goals you'd like to accomplish?

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my mentors about goals and purpose, and as we were talking, I realized that I've been living my life without a clear distinction between them. So, I took this opportunity to clarify a little bit, and first of all, my goals are to become a better photographer in terms of my work, and to make feature films. And my purpose is just to make people a little bit happier with the work that I do, whether it's photography, a film, or a book. Regardless of the means, I want to do something that's a little bit positive for people, and I think that's what I'm going to focus on in the future.


Finally, what is your advice to Sookmyungians who want to be active in various fields of their dreams and not limit themselves to one field?

I think it's obvious to dream of working in various fields because the capabilities of human beings are limitless. Those capabilities are much more synergistic when you work with someone than when you work alone. If you work hard to build your capabilities, eventually someone will give you the opportunity to join them. So, it's good to have dreams, but I think it shouldn't just remain as a dream and should be followed by action. Dreaming is the first thing, and action is the second thing: these two should always go hand in hand to fulfill a dream.


Kim Myung-jung

- London College of Communication., (Dip.) Media Studies (1997)
- London College of Fashion., (M.A.) Fashion Photography (2010)
- Photojournalist of UK Press Association (2000~2004)
- Spice Girls' reunion world tour photographer (2007~2008)
- Taking Pictures of Life Again Today (published 2019)
- "Hey, Mr. Mokhyung. Why Mr. Jumul" (2020) - a private exhibition
- Film director of <Juicy Girl> (2020)
- Paul McCartney's world tour photographer (2008~)

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