Youngho Kang’s 99 Variations Has No Retouching (Slightly NSFW)

The fox that has the soaked tail

The fox that has the soaked tail

All images by Youngho Kang. Used with permission.

Photographer Youngho Kang has one of the most beautiful stories that we’ve ever heard on how he started out as a photographer. His college girlfriend asked him to shoot photos of her, and he did it as an escape from his anxiety and to simply spend time with her. But the images were so good that they were pitched to ad agencies. Based in South Korea and born in 1970, he was a commercial photographer turned Fine Art photographer that got the nickname “The Dancing Photographer.” This is because he communicates with his subjects through dancing or with music in the background and acting as a conductor.

In 2009, he started the 99 Variations project, which is a complicated series of self portraits featuring him facing into a mirror and dressed as many different characters. But even more interestingly, Youngho tells us that there is no retouching to the images.

We talked to Youngho about the project; which we find incredibly fascinating.

Phoblographer Talk to us about how you got into photography.

A modest king walks across the river

A modest king walks across the river

Youngho: Photography came to me in a very natural way, I did not intend to be a photographer. During the time that I studied in the University, my major was French Literature, which is humanities as well as a liberal art. This major was of no good use when trying to get a hold of a job that offers a good salary, which in turn caused me great anxiety about my future. It was during my time at the University that I met with my then girlfriend, I soon fell in love with her and it did not take long for me to realize that she was my best means of escaping the anxiety I was dealing with concerning my reality. She wanted to pursue a career as an actress but did not have proper portrait images, and of all thinkable people she chose to ask me.

This did for me, in all honesty, mean that I could spend more time with my girlfriend so I accepted. I did however all the time think to myself that I actually had never done photography before.
When taking her portrait photos I made sure to choose the right music to create a good mood for her as well as engage with her through directing by performing dance-like movements. The final images turned out to be better than expected and by chance a marketing director from a fashion company saw my images and advised me to have my images applied to various advertising companies, which turned out being the best thing to do.

Phoblographer: Where did the idea for the 99 variations project come from?

A skinny pig

A skinny pig

Youngho: After having started doing photography in the very natural manner that I had, the next natural advancement turned out being to do commercial work. As a commercial photographer I met with a variety of celebrities as well as advertising companies, and a whole lot of them really liked my shooting style. “The Dancing Photographer” is what I came to be known as. What also made me stand out was my ability to create a sense of story-telling within the images, which was of interest to them. This gave me a chance of getting a lot of assignments, within my portraits they could always sense a sort of hidden expression, deeply hidden. So the commercial works were with me for a little more than 10 years, it was by this time that I was starting to comprehend that the commercial sphere had limitations within itself that I could not be completely at ease within.

“She wanted to pursue a career as an actress but did not have proper portrait images, and of all thinkable people she chose to ask me.”

Instead, I began attempting to find other means of creative expression. Peering into myself, there was an understanding that it would be a natural change. What then happened was all a matter of a natural process, since I yearned to express myself and my idea of art “A continuous effort and passion that only I can do” and there was a desire for me to specialize my shooting style to liken it with dancing, and a suitable way of doing this was by using the mirror as my choice of medium. Through the mirror I could be both the photographer and the model, simultaneously. That was when I started photographing myself in the mirror which was the beginning of 99 Variations.

One important aspect of 99 Variations for me was to never have the images being digitally retouched. This being since I regarded my works as a sort of documentary of what is inside of me.

Phoblographer: What inspired most of the variations that you photographed?

Ninety nine

Ninety nine

Youngho: Classical music is an important part in my image creation. That is where it starts.
All of the different works happen in the same way, it is always a matter of what happens naturally when it comes to my works. If I was to explain in the most tangible of ways I would say that the way the variations are created reminds of dreams, and how one attempts to find a logic or reason behind what has happened, this is where it starts taking form.

After these two first steps, the next one is to present my works to the creative team that I am working with. The creative team consists of members I have worked with during my years as a commercial photographer, so everyone was acquainted and thus could put forwards their thoughts about it all in the most natural of ways. So to speak, my working style is dialectical collaboration.

Phoblographer: What inspired the looks? They remind me of horror movies or surreal fiction.

Youngho: My first inspiration is classical music. The images do not have any visual references. They come to be as if one is dreaming a dream. As you know, the dream and the subconscious are always distorted from the reality as one knows it. I think that the image I found is kind of the archetype of human beings. A myth might look extraordinary for both good and bad, and thus, my works may to some, look very surreal or even taken out of horror movies.

Phoblographer: Every photographer tries to creatively express themselves in images, so what are you trying to get across to the viewer in your images?

Youngho: I want for the audience, when viewing the images, to have a feeling that they themselves are mirrors while facing my works.

In all of my works the audience is able to see the camera without any difficulties. The camera is utilized as my endoscope with which I can reach deep into myself, but the same camera can also be viewed as a passage that connects the audience and what is deep inside of me.

Thus, each one of my works becomes more alive and can leave the audience with a sympathy as well as shared feelings.

In creating my images, I believe my images reminds of anthropology, so perhaps as the audience sees my work, they will not stop at feeling like a mirror but they will use that feeling to peer deep into their own selves.

“The camera is utilized as my endoscope with which I can reach deep into myself, but the same camera can also be viewed as a passage that connects the audience and what is deep inside of me.”

The bird that the fisherman caught is haughty

The bird that the fisherman caught is haughty

The Burning Moon in the Deep Sea

The Burning Moon in the Deep Sea

The caring of the tree, for the horn of the calf

The caring of the tree, for the horn of the calf

The child who always stays at home

The child who always stays at home

The courtier with skinny hips

The courtier with skinny hips

The dog that knows time

The dog that knows time

The tree that trusts nobody

The tree that trusts nobody

The king who grows the chin

The king who grows the chin

The meat that pierces the horn, finally becomes the bird

The meat that pierces the horn, finally becomes the bird

The prison that does not regret

The prison that does not regret

Style: "Neutral"

Style: “Neutral”

Wakeful dreams

Wakeful dreams