“Virtual Seoul” - Q&A with Françoise Huguier
Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
Françoise Huguier, I’m a photographer and a sociologist-documentarist.
Can you explain what you mean by sociologist-documentarist?
It refers to my interest in different civilisations and societies. The things that are different from us are what allow us to question ourselves and to learn.
Can you describe your work entitled “Virtual Seoul”?
It’s an in-depth photographic exploration of the city of Seoul.
I prepared properly before going there by meeting people who knew the subject matter and by reading a great deal.
Once I was there, I tried to just let my initial impression wash over me, and then tried to go deeper.
What did you find that particularly struck you?
The modernity of the city, the buildings; screens everywhere, even on the metro. This virtual aspect is really impressive.
But the charm lies in the fact that behind the tall buildings, there are always side streets with little shops and specialised districts, selling, for example, books, fabrics or accessories for small dogs. Which makes for a really interesting structure of the city.
And very quickly, I was struck by the city’s youth and its K-pop universe. Going deeper, I was struck by the older generation – the Koreans who built this modern Korea; and by the colatheques (a contraction of Coca-Cola and discotheque) they often go to, dressed in absolutely incredible outfits.
How did this project come into being and develop?
This project had its origins in some work I had done in Kuala Lumpur on K-pop.
What’s more, I had already photographed Seoul in 1982; I wanted to see how South Korea had evolved more than 30 years later.
What were your main observations regarding this evolution?
Koreans today seem to have forgotten their past, as I mention in the sub-heading of my exhibition “The day Koreans went blond”.
Who is the project aimed at?
At all generations.
More for a western public?
More for a Korean and international public. The exhibition that was put on in Seoul received more than 3,000 visitors a day.
What message are you looking to send with this work?
How Seoul, after 35 years of Japanese colonisation followed by a fratricidal war, became, thanks to the energy of the South Korean people, a major global economic power. But at what price?
Is that still an unanswered question? Or do you have some form of answer?
The answer is in the photographs that I took. But what struck me was that there is a certain anxiety among Koreans, which I link back to the history of the country, the separation, and also to the environment on the peninsula and the proximity to China, Japan and Russia.
It’s an anxiety that they try, I think, to obscure with a frenzy of advertising and images. On my journey back home in Seoul I had images in my face all the time, the whole time. Images flashing up on big screens can be really intense, constantly seeking you out.
There’s this need to prove that they’re the best, because they’re smaller compared to their neighbours China and Japan. Throughout history, it has always been like that for Korea. And I rather admire that combative side to Koreans.
A core part of the special programme being organised to mark the PyeongChang Games, “Virtual Seoul” can be seen at The Olympic Museum from 7.12.2017 to 11.03.2018. What does it mean for you to exhibit your photographs in this setting?
The Olympic Museum is to some extent a tribute to Pierre de Coubertin, from France. For me it’s an honour to exhibit my work in this museum.
What does Pierre de Coubertin represent for you?
He was a genius who had the brilliant idea of reviving the Games of Ancient Greece; a great demonstration of friendship between peoples through sport and athletic performance.
If you were in PyeongChang during the Games, what would you like to photograph and why?
I’d like to photograph what goes on behind the scenes at the Games, because it’s a way to capture the nerves of the athletes.
What is it about those types of emotions that interests you?
It’s an important moment – it’s about surpassing yourself, psychologically and physically.
Website: Françoise Huguier