Kim Seok Jin: Teacher & Photographer
Photographer: Kim Seok Jin
Written by: Duke Stewart
Photography is not always one’s first profession and is sometimes pushed to the backburner, to be looked at more as a hobby and reserved for those precious moments away from work and the daily grind. Occasionally a special person will come along and share their everyday job experiences with the world, in a way that draws a crowd. Teachers always have such wonderful and interesting stories and I’ve especially wondered what Korean teachers have to say. Thankfully there’s someone like Kim Seok Jin documenting the daily happenings in Korea’s high stakes education system, from the inside.
Of course expats like myself have seen many foreign teachers sharing poses of lively and energetic students but what about the more realistic and darker sides? People tend to ignore truth in favor of happiness, but Seok Jin is interested in sharing an important and real story with his growing fan base. In conversing with this talented photographer, I not only learned valuable bits of wisdom about photography and about one of Korea’s best but also about something important happening inside this country. Here you will read about Kim Seok Jin who is a teacher first but speaking to the world as a photographer.
Thoughts and Influences
Seok Jin Kim teaches in Jinju and has always wanted to take pictures, though he only started ten years ago. Working as a teacher in Korea gave Seok Jin a valuable opportunity to share his views on the country’s schools and life within them. He says,
“I always had an interest in taking pictures and wanted to record the current education system in Korea.”
He prefers snapshots and in a documentary style, and that really makes sense when I ask about influences. Seok Jin credits a long history of reading photography books and magazines but two photographers – Czech-born Josef Koudelka and Brazilian Sebastião Salgado – come up immediately.
The latter best fits Seok Jin’s and if you compare his shots with Salgado’s, similarities are pretty striking. However instead of focusing on city life, Mr. Kim chooses Korean education as his social commentary. He likes to photograph students inside classrooms and in a natural setting, and his exceptional abilities take those simple scenes to a higher level. By recording memories of what he calls the “current state and future changes of the Korean education system,” Seok Jin is revealing his thoughts on a delicate subject in Korea. He feels that this country’s education is stuck in the past and mostly a system of “competition and obedience” while the students’ needs are mostly ignored.
Behind the Scenes
I admire Seok Jin for speaking up and begin to wonder about his thoughts when producing these wonderful shots. Shooting with a 28mm, Seok Jin explains, “helps create a more dynamic portrait and 50mm lens is a versatile one that can be used just about anywhere.” When I ask about post-production, I expect an answer that would be indicative of his busy work and life schedule. However, Seok Jin assures me that plenty of time is spent each day behind the scenes and comments, as he says, “2 hours each day is spent in post-production.” Even though he’s a full-time teacher and husband, I think to the quality of his photographs and think he’s lowballing that figure.
He tries to post once everyday and receives anywhere from 500 – 5,000 views on his blog. With a steady posting schedule on his blog, Seok Jin has steadily built a large following and continues to rise on the Korean photography scene. But outside his secondary profession Seok Jin tells me, “I enjoy drawing cartoons about Korean History” and about tales stretching all the way back to the 3rd century. He used to post them online but has recently decided to keep them off the Internet. I start to wonder about what else he’s capable of perfecting, but unfortunately we both have deadlines to meet.
His Wisdom and Future Prospects
I am thankful to Seok Jin for having a chance to learn from him, and will be following his work with eager eyes. His parting wisdom to me is truly important and worth passing on. In asking about things he’s learned through becoming a successful photographer, Seok Jin explains,
“The most important thing is you have to be diligent to your pictures. You have to take, edit your pictures and show them others.”
My biggest takeaway from him is that you must never give up and continue showing the world what you’ve got to say, or else it will go unnoticed.
Aside from passing on such wonderful bits of wisdom, Seok Jin’s Tistory Blog pumps out a wonderful photograph on a near-daily basis. If his work already looks familiar to you, it’s because publishers in Korea have caught on and put Seok Jin’s stuff out there. His work has been featured as the monthly photo for various publishers and very soon, Seok Jin’s personal photo book will be on the market in the second half of this year. He is teaching us about an important story such as the life inside Korean classrooms and my hope is that Kim Seok Jin will stick around and keep wowing us with his wonderful portrayal of Korean education. There’s so much to learn from him and his students.