Mok Jungwook’s photographic memories
With a natural gift for capturing something extraordinary in everyday situations, the Korean artist and fashion photographer talks about his engaging images being as much about what stays unseen.
‘For me, it’s always been hard to explain what kind of photographer I am,’ says Korean artist Mok Jungwook (he/him), who studied his craft in both Seoul and London. ‘But one thing I can say with confidence is that I have been trying to capture something that you can’t actually see with your eyes. Like an atmosphere, or memory.’
While his art reveals the extraordinary in everyday scenarios – moments with the power to tell deeper stories about identity and place – working as an established fashion photographer in Korea, in parallel to his art practice, makes Mok uniquely positioned to create the prints for this exclusive menswear collection project with COS, the first of its kind for the brand.
Exploring the shifting meaning of our local environments, the capsule collection features Mok’s transportive landscapes, complete with his signature woven into the labels. It’s an extension of the artist’s own multidisciplinary style, often working on his photographs by hand after developing them.
Whether shot on road-trips across America or closer to home, the meditative images are connected by a stillness that speaks volumes. ‘In urban spaces I want to watch the world through a macro lens, only concentrating on the parts I’m interested in,’ he explains. ‘But in rural spaces everything is in wide focus, and that contrast is intensely inspiring. I feel like a little dot on this vast planet.’
Here he tells COS about the influence of memories, unexpected locations that reflect his eclectic references, and how conversation shapes his work.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF PLACE
‘Since photography is all about the light, it always changes according to where I am standing. Like the color of the sky or shape of a cloud, where I live or stay always influences my work. In London, modern things are partly merged with traditional buildings with a long history. When I walk through the streets I am inspired. In Seoul we only have a few traditional structures left due to tragic historical events. Everything had to be rebuilt. When I go back to my hometown, nothing remains of the places I knew from my childhood. This gives me a sense of both loss and energy as it allows me to think about the remaining memories beyond what I can physically see.’
ON THE PERFECT PICTURE
‘The perfect image does not exist. Having said that, because I think photography is mostly about the moment, I think there have been periods when that special moment has come to me all of a sudden. Being able to capture something extraordinary in everyday scenes and situations is the biggest gift that was given me.’
ON MAINTAINING HIS PERSPECTIVE
‘Since my commercial works are collaborations, they focus more on communication. I try to deliver the points I want to capture for my clients and express what they want through my perspective. My artworks, on the other hand, are only based on me. So, I spend a lot of time both asking and answering questions of myself. Personal works usually take more time than commercial works. And since both emerge from the same personal perspective, there are always some overlaps.’
ON SCOUTING FOR LOCATIONS
‘Since I was a kid, I have studied a wide range of visual things like paintings, photos, or movies. Amazingly, I always find clues from them in and amongst the mix of my own artworks. When I search for spots to take pictures for a project, these accumulated ideas become the inspiration at the planning stage. Then I look for real places that reflect them.’
ON THE ROOTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
‘In traditional photography, photos come from light and water. I’m not necessarily always thinking about that when I grab my camera, but I am in the darkroom. I start to think about the roots of photography. It comes through in the emotional and sentimental feel of the prints. I find it a source of powerful energy.’
ON FINDING SOLACE IN NATURE
‘When I grab my camera, I can fall into complicated thinking, so sometimes I need to take a rest from shooting. I find myself more sensitive to the changes in nature nowadays, like weather and the leaves. I try to immerse myself in that and think about new projects. Balancing work with resting in nature.’
ON SEEING HIS WORK BEING WORN
‘I have spent a long time working as a fashion photographer, trying to understand and capture the moments that show the shape of clothes in a way that the designers intended. Seeing my own photography become a part of it was special and a whole new fresh experience to me.’
ON ROAD-TRIPPING ACROSS THE STATES
‘The images used were taken on a road trip across America. Since I was young, I really liked Ed Ruscha’s work, and the road trip is a really important part of photographic history. I always dreamt about it. I organized a road trip with a group of friends that make up our art collective. My life was fully scheduled during that period working on commercial projects, but the road trip had no plan at all. We decided on destinations day by day, and it was an experience that gave me fresh inspiration and energy.’
ON WORKING WITH OTHERS
‘I see conversation as an important part of my work, and I believe that I was able to do something that I couldn’t have done by myself on that road trip. I’ll never forget the moments and conversations we shared. We talked about those spontaneous inspirations that come from nowhere. That’s something that can’t be experienced when you work alone.’
Words by Ben Perdue
Discover the COS x Mok Jungwook (@mokjungwook) limited-edition capsule collection of T-shirts, shirting, knitwear and accessories featuring photographic prints shot by Mok.
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