Hongil Han


Owner of The Fifthmoon, Photographer

Pyeongchang-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Hongil Han photographs flowers with a large-sized polaroid camera. Most are full-petaled, feminine ones like peonies and hydrangeas. His flowers are fairly easy to perceive. He captures the beautiful moment created by the stages of blooming and falling while the classic and dense tone describe a plaintive beauty. The flowers wait endlessly, they remind us a vague memory of expecting someone in love. For Han, his flowers are like written letters that were never posted. Before the flowers, he was originally a fashion photographer. From 1980 he led what was poor back then the fashion photography industry and in 2007 he left Gangnam, where he lived and worked for many years, and moved to Pyeongchang-dong. The reason was to concentrate on his independent work. His new home+studio gives a feeling of a remote and tranquil temple up in the mountains. The quiet and calm place is where he now clicks the shutter for the sake of his own pleasure. 

Yoojin Jung

We are told you lived all your life in Seoul.

I was born in Cheonggu-dong, which is now called Shindang-dong(Jung-gu), after the district reorganization. In the 1970s Shindang-dong used to be a placid town full of houses built during the Japanese Invasion. During the occupation most Japanese located themselves in many towns in Yongsan-gu in two-story wooden houses, similar to that of multiplex housings, that were rented as office residentials. On the contrary, majority of the houses in Jung-gu were larger in size with little gardens attached. 


We can imagine how different Seoul was back then. 

Well actually, I think people born around the 1940s saw the best scenery of Seoul. That's before the Korean War. When you look at photos taken during those years, they're just fascinating. The early 20th century was a critical period in human history with flourishing development in city constructions. Cityscapes depend very much on the city's architecture and the early 20th century Seoul was under the Japanese occupation. Nonetheless, the country also made plans for the city and adapted the European roundabouts. They are now almost gone due to heavy traffic. The city layout was like the vestiges of the invasion so for Koreans the city's beauty was instead considered as a disgrace. And sadly as a result, under the guise of liquidating the vestiges, the country severely took down its very first city construction, which I feel quite sorry about. 

You lived in Gangnam district for over 30 years. You must've wittnessed the dramatic change of the area. 

I was born in 1963 and my generation was the first to settle in Gangnam. A lot of my friends moved to Gangnam-gu in fifth and sixth grade. According to them Gangnam was a wasteland everywhere. On rainy days the schools would become all muddy. Roads were all yet to be paved. In my case, my family moved to Yeoksam-dong(Gangnam-gu) in 1978 when things were more established. At the time Gangnam was far from how it is now. Real estate value wasn't so high and it was the period when industrial products like cameras were thought to be more expensive. 

Major photo studios are concentrated in Gangnam. Was there a specific reason you moved to Pyeongchang-dong in 2007?

I lived in Gangnam since my teenage years but I've always felt as though it was a rootless place. Most of the time I preferred to shoot outside the studio so I pretty much know my way around Seoul. I looked for a calm and peaceful place in order to concentrate on my personal work. I specifically wanted a non-developing, steady neighborhood where the majority of the residents are born in Seoul, settled in the area for a long time. And luckily, I soon found the right house in this neighborhood. I could feel the good energy the house was giving me. Something like an animal intuition, I felt from my guts the right kind of earth energy that said it was mine. 


Did your lifestyle change in any way after your move from the heart of the trendy Gangnam to the calm new place?

When I turned 50, I quit commercial photography. During my 30s and 40s I did both commercial and personal. As soon I was finished with work, I used my free time and calmly took pictures on flowers. But at some point, I started to get very tired, I don't know why. Commercial photographers deal with clients, obviously, but when you reach a certain age like mine, it starts to feel uncomfortable to meet the requirements. Fashion photography is considered a commercial field but also it is like a journey in searching the right emotion behind the camera. As for me, I agonized over expressing the models' emotions in context, rather than focusing on the clothes only. Back in the days fashion photography enabled us to create our own directions but nowadays I had to work by the given ones and that was stressful. 

We notice a lot of interesting stuff here. Do you enjoy collection of things?

Collecting is a man's instinct. And I don't get rid of things easily. I should when the time comes and organize but it's seems that I can't let go of things. Even a stone, a piece of metal can make me feel related to them after a long time and just the thought of throwing away some of my stuff makes me want to tear. I actually did when I sent my car to the scrapyard, which I drove for 17 years. I'm the kind of person who feels attached to things deeply so it takes me a while to decide when I purchase something. Thus I don't buy things so often. 

You did fashion photography since the 1980s. What triggered you to get into it?

Advertisement was way out of style in my generation. They lacked identities, all of them just a bold photo of the product solely. I searched for other options in photography apart from fine art and ads and sooner or later I found out about fashion shoots for magazines. My generation of professional photographers were the last to enter a magazine company and receive monthly salaries. Editors, design team and the photography would work together and build concepts for articles. I started my first office experience at magazine <Yeowon> and later moved to <Jubu Saeng Hwal (Life of Married Women)>. At that time the photography director was Seihon Cho, who's now one of the famous and representative photographer in Korea. It was an era when people passionate for photography flocked to magazines. And fashion shoots were the critical corner of every magazines so I can say that it was an important period in finding the real meaning of fashion photography. As for me I've always had great interest in capturing women, and fashion shoots were about shooting women so it meant a lot to me. 

Can you describe Hongil Han's fashion photography?

My works directly reflect both the advantages and the disadvantages of photography. So eventually I spent a lot of time deciding on colors and medium. On the other hand, photographer Boomoon Kwon, whom I admire, agonized over minimalism in photography. I think he reflected his own belief 'human's thoughts are fit to minimal things' into his works. For example, his 'Naksan' was taken at Naksan beach during a snowstorm. It was a black and white photo but even if it was in color, it would've looked the same. When I taught photography to students I gave lectures on life as well. I was influenced by Boomoon Kwon on the artistic side and the fashion by Seihon Cho. 


Majority of your works are on flowers. 

As an artist, choosing to work with flowers isn't so special. But in the mean time, out of all fields of art, exposing it as a whole is rare. It's because it's not easy to get satisfying results when you use flowers as your main theme. Artist Jonghak Kim once said "Nevertheless I will paint flowers." which means that he drew his life in his flowers. He went on consistently in painting them and thus could become a master of flowers. As for myself, I shoot flowers for a simple reason; they're just beautiful. Instead of shooting directly the way I see them, I add a layer, an imagination, and that enables one to see and discover a new perspective. I'm not fond of explicit photography. It's something like when you look at a woman's elegant figure you can somehow get a hint of her inner beauty. Or even her nature from the mood of her posture. So when I place myself behind the camera and put my finger on the shutter I wait seconds while listening to my breath for the right moment, knowing that the smallest difference will make different results. 

Is there an important factor you consider in spaces or products?

Balance. Whether it be a product, daily life or space, balance is most important. And this doesn't mean simply a well-porprtioned balance, I mean a balance context-wise. Also when I choose products I mainly consider the material most. If you have a certain knowledge in materials it gets easy to decide which product you should choose to use or how to deal with.


Ogu Banjeom

60 Supyoro, Jung-gu, Seoul
2 3 Euljiro 3-ga
11:00~21:30 (Mon~Sat)

"When the thought of jajangmyeon gets in my head nothing else beats it and that's how much I love Chinese food."

It is a historic Chinese restaurant which opened in 1953. The name Ogu Banjeom comes from the address '5-9(pronounced ogu in Korean) Eulgiro3-ga'. Interestingly the founder's son's name is also 'Ogu', who now runs it. The most representative place of Euljiro was founded by a Shandong(China) origin. Its red sign and tiles tell you enough. Popular menus are the common fried dumplings, jjambbong and jajangmyeon. Hongil Han recommends this place after tasting almost every Chinese restaurants run by Chinese all throughout the country. He also favors it because of the nostalgic air of the neighborhood, Euljiro and Cheonggyecheon, which were once the centralized commercial district of Seoul.