Photographer and filmmaker Duran Levinson recently spent two weeks exploring the street and fashion culture in Seoul, South Korea. Words by Amy Lawrence.¬†
Seoul is a behemoth of fashion and artistic energy.¬†Beauty, vibrancy and youth are the new gods of this land of stark contradictions and sonorous juxtaposition. Unity and age are still revered, true to its Confucian past, but youth and the belief in the inherent purity of creative expression are increasingly and fervently worshipped in churches housed behind the flawless smiles of the new elite, the increasingly burgeoning cult of celebrity, the royal court of the beautiful ones.
However, the surface of this quest for visual perfection, and sometimes obsessive aestheticism, does not have to be scratched too deeply to reveal the life blood of the Korean psyche, its spirit immemorial, which are these: mutual care, generosity and a deep honesty which can be enchanting and unnerving all at once in its vulnerability, a vulnerability which carries its own formidable strength.¬†These are the prevailing and quintessential qualities which orbit the collective consciousness of a people who have shown incredible resilience, historically, in the face of wave upon wave of national misfortune. It is hard to believe that fifty years ago this country, which is now one of the leading industrial powers of the world, was poorer than Bolivia, largely agrarian, and stripped of almost everything but a spirit which had a dream of prosperity and a better life, a beautiful life.
It is this energy and longing for life that lives on and in and under the streets of Seoul, off the billboards and out of the high-sheen magazines, where a smile is never far away, and neither is a shot of Soju. ‚ÄòEveryday Friday‚Äô is a culture that says you can only really know someone after you‚Äôve had a few too many drinks together, when the masks fall and the smiles are wider than ever. It is a city that never sleeps, but it’s in the strangely peaceful twilight hours, when the last of the previous night‚Äôs revellers stumble past old and bent-backed women collecting recycling among the trash, in the alleys of slowly waking markets that soon will be sending scents of gochujang and kimchi into the air like incense at a temple, that one understands the other name by which this land is known, the ‚ÄòLand of Morning Calm‚Äô.