Korean Elderly Fashion

A desire to connect with South Korea, the place where my parents came from and where my ancestors lay to rest, led me to travel there in 2018. I never got a chance to connect with my grandparents, so I was curious about their current and past experiences. As I walked around Seoul, I noticed a lot of elderly people dressed in fashionable clothes, particularly men dressed in suits, fancy hats and nice shoes. This is why I started to photograph them in the first place.

May 2018 - June 2018 || Seoul, South Korea Shot on the Yashica Mat 124 G

Normally people in Korea don't want their photo taken, but when I mentioned people's outfits, they were excited to share how much something cost or where they got their suit from. Some said it was important for them to dress well as a way to feel dignified. One man said to me "My skin is aging, my breath smells, and I can't control that I'm getting old, but I can still control what I wear and how I present myself to society."  I got a sense that aging isn't viewed as something to be proud of, but people can still be proud of what they're wearing. Most elderly people in Korea experienced a lot of trauma, and this is one way for them to show the world they've survived it and they're doing well.

I worked on this project for about 3-4 weeks from May 2018 to June 2018. I shot the portraits with a Yashica Mat 124G - it was my first time using a medium format film camera. My biggest barrier was the cost of shooting medium format film. I'd only make 3-4 frames of each person I met, and in hindsight I wish I used at least 1-2 rolls per person. Before I went to Seoul I tested out a few rolls on my friends and family with expired film. I was getting used to seeing things backwards, so it would take me a few attempts to compose the frames. But having this camera was an icebreaker and created conversation with the elderly people, since some of them recognized it as an older camera. I also liked that there wasn't a barrier between my face and the people I was meeting. There was already a language barrier to deal with, so having the camera below my face made me feel a bit more connected. I think after the first few people I photographed, I became more comfortable with the camera.

When pitching this story, it was disheartening because, although the images were well received by different editors, the story never found a place to be published. Also, I wanted to explore what the elderly population experienced in daily life, but some editors wanted to see suffering, struggling grandmas and grandpas. I personally did not want to photograph this community from a suffering narrative, but rather wanted to show the ways members of the elderly community preserve their dignity. This is a generation that endured Japanese colonization, the Korean war and economic struggle under a dictatorship, and witnessed technological and economic growth. My hope was to preserve their stories and images before this generation passes away

Using Format