Aston Husumu Hwang, better known as simply Husumu, is a photographer, documenting the youth culture of South Korea. Coming under the name of ’Hallyu’, it is a new generation of kids influenced by globalisation.
They are also the subjects of Husumu’s photographs. Tracing the night excursions of his friends, he treasures authenticity, bringing the most of human spontaneity to spotlight. Shooting exclusively on film, Hwang replaced digital with the analog to keep maximum control over the visual outcome – a perfect balance between art and documentary.
Who is Aston Husumu Hwang and what is he thinking?
My real name is Sungmin Hwang. Aston is an English name I adopted in the States. Normally, people can’t pronounce my Korean name, so Husumu became a nickname. I remember doing a solo exhibition, where people used to think it was a group show and Aston, Husumu and Hwang are all different persons. It seems like though… When I shoot, I just push the shutter button and do things subconsciously. I never want to spoil the moment or distract the models, I’m trying not to think too much.
Why did you take up photography?
When I was kid, my parents were too busy and we spent little proper family time. While traveling, my parents gave me a camera, because I was so curious. I fell in love with photography and brought my camera everywhere – even to the bathroom or bed. It is always in my hand and feels like a body part. That’s why I end up shooting everyday life.
Why do you choose to shoot on film only?
I did a lot of digital before, but I started to miss the film. Digital is all about 0 and 1’s, the untouchable and invisible thing, so I decided not to use it anymore. An iPhone is enough to achieve the effect, it’s so easy to retouch. Digital does everything for me, while film is completely different. I have to do so many things to shoot and make it truthful. It’s annoying at times, but it also means that I make it my own. That’s the film, it’s alive.
Your photographs are a documentation of South Korea’s youth culture. How would you define it?
Thank you. I’m still young and most people in my photographs are same age as me. If I was to define it, I’d say it’s just my life. I’m shooting the things around me. It is a photo diary.
Who are the subjects of your photographs?
Most of the people are friends I met at the club. Funny, right? DJs, musicians, producers, photographers, videographers, designers, clubbers… Still, I love to shoot landscapes more!
What is it that you find most fascinating about Korea’s night life that serves as a backdrop of your pictures?
Soju, I think. Alcohol makes people extremely emotional, it can encourage violence but it’s mostly all about fun (next day is hell though). Korea is a drug clean place compared to other countries, so I think maybe that’s why people drink a lot here… It’s interesting for me, because I can shoot easily when they are tipsy, their faces still look good! A little more relaxed and natural.
What is modern Seoul like? Does the spirit of the city feed into your work?
’Hell’, we say ’Hell-Joseon’. ‘Joseon’ is an old name for Korea and hell is hell, as you know. Fast economic growth brought out so many negative aspects that look good on the surface, but it is really messed up – little hope, no future. Government cannot help me in anyway, so I’m just trying to do my own thing.
From K-pop to beauty obsessions, it seems we tend to look at South Korea through a lens of stereotypes. Is there anything you’d like to tell about Korea with your photographs?
That’s right, especially Western people think of us through a K-pop lens. It is like a TV show, kind of real but not. Some people follow the genre, but they are a minority. Think about Kanye and Kim, they are music and fashion icons of America, but little Americans look like them. Here it is the same. These days, I think youth cultures are similar everywhere. It’s the effect of the Internet and the ’Hypebeast’ influences.
Do you have a dream project in mind?
It might be a bit naive, but one day, I’d dream to shoot my own child – although I don’t have it yet. I still keep the photo albums from my childhood, compiled by my parents and I love how they show my very own history. Nowadays, kids don’t have them anymore. Just a bunch of digital image files on their computer or CDs. I want to make a photo album for my kids, hoping it will be a precious gift.
Words and interview by Marta Kna