Guryong Village in Seoul; Ian | 2014

The photograph ‘Ian’ is a part of my project, ‘Guryong Village in Seoul.’ Ian is my son sleeping underneath the old photographs in my mother’s room in Guryong Village. Guryong Village is an enormous shantytown in Seoul’s wealthiest district, Gangnam. It was formed in the 1980s, when thousands of people were pushed out of their homes by redevelopment projects for the Olympic Games. The 2,400 residents of Guryong Village live in shelters cobbled together from plywood, metal, sheets of plastic, even cardboard boxes amid some of Seoul’s most expensive real estate. My mother has lived in Guryong Village for the past decade; I lived there for three years prior to moving to Chicago in 2012.

In the winter of 2014 and fall of 2015, I visited her for six weeks, documenting the village, and providing much-needed photographic services, such as passport photos and funerary images. This project was a very personal one, but it was also political. In making portraits of my family members and their neighbors, I wanted to do more than show my great respect for them, I also wanted to call attention to the struggle of their daily lives. There was a sense of urgency in my documenting the physical spaces that they have called home for so long, given that this village is now scheduled to be redeveloped–these people are certain to be displaced once again. Rather than showing the shabbiness and miserableness of poverty in the neighborhood, I wanted to bring out a question about the socio-political and structural reason why the shanty town had to be built, and how human nature has worked there. The outside observer may see in these homes nothing but crushing poverty; what I see, as an inside observer, its ingenuity, perseverance, and pride.


Immigrant Status; Sherwin Ovid and Family | 2017

“Immigrant Status” is an ongoing photography project that began with my conversations with customers of the commercial photo studio in Arlington Heights, Illinois, that I opened in 2017. Studio Soo specializes in portrait photography, and I have clients who have immigrated to the U.S. from all over the world – Mexico, Chile, India, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Korea, Japan, etc. I am now collaborating with the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, the Korean Ministers Association of Illinois, and other organizations, to provide free passport photos and family portraits to immigrant families. During these photo shoots, my subjects and I discuss the difficulties they face as U.S. residents with immigrant status – not only the threat of deportation, but the aspiration to build a better life for themselves and their families.

I came to Chicago in 2012 from South Korea as international graduate student; late last year, my artist’s petition for a green card was finally approved. I am fortunate. However, there was a two-year period in which, while my application was pending, everything was insecure in case of rejection and deportation. My wife and I, and our two children, were in a very difficult situation–one that we will never forget. We are grateful for the support we received from our friends and family, since we could not have remained in the U.S. without their help.

The story of our sacrifices and hardships, is a common one for most immigrant families. Like my wife and I, they want a better life for themselves and for their children. These portraits are intended to celebrate their ambitions–and also to celebrate what it’s truly great about America.


Fight for Fifteen; Sonia Acuña with Yari and Elizabeth | 2015

Fight for Fifteen (FF15) is a part of a national campaign to raise the minimum wage for fast-food, retail, and service workers. Since April 2015, I have been taking portraits of FF15 members in the Chicago area, at their workplaces, in their homes, and at public demonstrations. FF15 organizers are recruiting 30 or more of their members to tell their stories and have their portraits. On early April in 2015, I visited an art studio preparing the massive rally on April 15th. Reassuringly, some high school or college students volunteered to spend one week making a large sculpture, buckets and picket signs. During home visits, I photograph workers out of uniform, often with their families. I also photograph their uniforms hanging in the bedroom closet, or laid out on their beds, ready to be put on. On August 13th in 2016, I have photographed the National Workers’ Convention and massive rallies in Richmond.

These portraits are being used for media projects by FF15 organizers; they will also be shown in public galleries, and collected in a book of photography to be published in 2019. This project seeks to raise questions about labor, success, respectability, democracy, political struggle—what motivates us, and what holds us back. The project also aims to generate a fresh relationship among the images that brings out a more contradictory and anguished view of poverty, democracy and economic struggle in the United States as well as contribute to the sense of community and solidarity among the workers.

Note: The text above was written by the Artist. No modification was made by C.O.C.A.

Soohyun Kim


Soohyun Kim (b. 1979) earned his MFA in photographic design from Hongik University (Seoul, South Korea) and a second MFA in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He researches the catalyzing potential of art for social change. He is working with the Fight for Fifteen campaign to raise the minimum wage. Kim has received awards for his work, including 2018 Silver Eye Center for Photography Fellowship and 2016 CDS Documentary Essay Prize. Kim currently teaches at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.

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