Hyunmin Ryu’s collaboration with his nephew illustrates the importance of play

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Funny and at-times absurd, the Korean photographer’s ongoing project is a playful observation associated with his relationship with his 11-year-old nephew

As a child, Hyunmin Ryu was a prankster. Now, at the age of 43, the Korean photographer considers these playful antics the particular “driving force” behind his work. In many ways, pranks are a physical rejection of the “rules and norms that serve the stabilisation of culture, ” he says. This result can be compared to the intentions behind Marcel Duchamp’s readymade statue, Fountain (1917): an attention grabbing statement that challenged modern definitions of art. “A situation in which rhythmic fart sounds resound in a quiet classroom… gives the performer an identical pleasure, ” Ryu suggests.

Since 2020, the professional photographer has been working on a series of images with his 11-year-old nephew. Funny and at-times absurd, these types of staged photographs lean in to elements of fantasy and illusion. Ryu hopes that the project resonates with his nephew inside a similar vein to just how he sees pranks – a playful distraction in the monotonous routine of school.  

Eight-eyed Youngster. From the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.

Paper Boat. In the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.

The resulting body of work is an example of the importance of play – not just in artistic practice, but in relationships as well.

Reflection. From the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.

The project is titled right after his nephew, Kim Saehyun, and was recently granted the Gomma Grant . It is a leaving from the photographer’s previous projects, which he describes as “ideological and out of touch with real life”. Functioning across photography, video, plus installation, Ryu’s practice can be conceptual, exploring the limitations of the photographic medium plus functioning as institutional analyze. His journey into picture taking began as a retoucher, with his cousin’s printing studio room. “It was started not out of an interest in picture taking, but purely for the purpose of making money, ” says Ryu. But , the job piqued his fascination with the craft, and he made a decision to enrol onto the photography course at Chungang College in Seoul.  

This was followed by an MA at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, but rather than pursuing a career in London or Seoul, Ryu decided to return to their homecity, Daegu. In 2012, Ryu moved back into his mother and father house, with his older sister and her then one-year-old son. This initiated the shift in his practice. “[I wanted to] work blindly in pursuit of pure desire, ” he says. Ryu decided to turn his lens onto the person who was most important to your pet: a subject he could connect with on a personal level.    

“[I] contributed the process of growing up with [my nephew], ” says Ryu. “He will be the first person I have been fully involved in the procedure for becoming an adult from birth… Eleven years on, we nevertheless live together as best buddies. ” The resulting body of work is an example of the importance of play – not just in artistic practice, however in relationships too.  

Marigold Warner

On the web Editor

Marigold Warner joined up with the British Journal Photography in April 2018, plus currently holds the position associated with Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism through City, University of Greater london. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.

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