Dramatic, intriguing, thoughtful, and beautiful: Seoul-based creative Giseok Cho crafts powerful images, but he says he doesn't consider his photographs to be art. “I think I'm doing it to express beauty from my perspective,” he says. The photographer builds careful compositions filled with rich colors and luxurious textures that surround solitary figures. His mysterious portraits blur boundaries of time, culture, and gender, leaving the viewer to wonder about the worlds his ephemeral characters come from—what moments have just passed, or are about to arrive.
When asked about how he wants viewers to relate to the characters in his photographs, Cho counters that he doesn’t necessarily have goals like that in mind. “I just want to do what I want, and want people to think that person does his thing.” Rather than making individual statements about his subjects, Cho prefers to keep his imagery more conceptually high-level, reflecting the complexities of Korean culture, the fickleness of fashion, and the ambiguity of beauty.
The photographer’s carefully staged portraits draw on his background in the fashion industry. Cho has worked as a graphic designer, set designer, and art director, crafting imagined worlds to bring Korean fashion to life. He continues to use fashion as a powerful means of expression, taking advantage of the ever-changing aesthetics. “Fashion has so much to offer to express beauty, and it’s dynamic, so there’s a lot of variety. It’s fun for me.”
His work plays with extremes. Very rarely do the people in his portraits adopt the typical posture of gazing off into the distance, a convention that softens implications of voyeurism. Some of Cho’s subjects offer a hard stare to the camera lens, while others’ eyes are completely closed or obscured by masks.
Similarly, the photographer alternates between cloaking people with layers of figure-obscuring bulky apparel, or stripping away fabric and fashion to focus on bare skin. In one photograph, a pink-painted face perches atop a loose yellow dress, while two sets of arms and two sets of legs defy the boundaries of distinct individuals. In another, Cho’s nude male subject is bedecked in butterflies, as he leans forward and stares down the viewer with his one eye not obscured by the insects’ wings.
Cho frequently combines motifs of traditional Korean culture with futuristic elements. “I think it expresses the situation of my peers in Korea,” he says. “Digital technology is very advanced, and continues to evolve quickly, but traditional ways of thinking and society remain. The two coexist.” Flowers similarly appear often, whether on a subject’s face or in the patterns of their apparel. “Their very typical beauty is easy to distort,” he says, allowing the plant life to take on ambiguity or meaning, depending on the context.