From the series In-Between Double © Hye-Ryoung Min


From the series Yeonsoo © Hye-Ryoung Min

Hye-Ryoung Min came of age as an artist right as photography

was going through the upheaval of the century. She grew up with film, but by 2009, when she graduated Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography program at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, she also had a firm handle on digital technology.

After moving into the NYC art world from South Korea, she had to adapt in more ways than one, and ever since her arrival, she’s continued to reflect on notions of home, belonging, identity, and the nature of her chosen medium. She describes all her photographs as a kind of self-portraits in one way or another, whether the subject is her seven-year-old niece or a stranger glimpsed outside her apartment window. She’s even digitally created entire cityscapes from her mind’s eye, fictional amalgamations of New York and Seoul.

Min’s work has been published and exhibited internationally, and with every project, she challenges herself to try something new while remaining true to her sensitive and poetic aesthetic. It’s been seven years since she graduated SVA’s rigorous yearlong program, where she studied with leading New York industry professionals, so we asked her to take a look back and tell us how she went from a little girl who loved the photo lab to a successful fine artist and commercial photographer.

When did you first know you were a photographer? Do you remember that moment?
“The first time I heard the smooth hissing sound of film spooling onto a reel or watched an image slowly appearing on paper in the darkroom were the moments that drew me to photography in 1996. However, it was after completing my college degree that I realized photography was the best way for me to communicate with the world and express myself.”


From the series Re-membrance of the remembrance © Hye-Ryoung Min

You work mostly in series. How do you know when it’s time to end one project and begin another?
“Most of my series start from a moment in time.”

“For instance, when I first arrived in New York from Korea, being out on the street and making photographs was the only thing I could do to overcome my homesickness. I digitally intertwined my own imaginary world with those street photographs and made composite images for the project In-between Double.

“Each project has its own reason to be born. Some of them take longer than others, and I can work on a couple of the projects at the same time. Gathering an archive of photographs for a period of years or having a long-term project feels like a natural progression of living with them. On the other hand, some projects feel like a task that needs to be accomplished, and it comes and goes in between other tasks. It’s like seasons. Some summers seem like they will never be over or some winters arrive before I even realize it. The project knows when to come and go, not me. It’s all meaningful for me and when the project has done its job, which means passing through me. I am able to move on to the next journey.”


From the series In-Between Double © Hye-Ryoung Min

What has been the most challenging personal project of yours, and how did you overcome obstacles?
“Again it’s different types of journeys. Some are like backpacking without much planning ahead, AND some could be like non-stop flight with the return ticket in my hand. They all present different types of challenges, and I value them all equally. What I do know is that I’m the one who makes things more complicated and harder to do. How I think through and make the work is hardly simple. So even though I’m the main obstacle to my work, it’s something that I can’t change. I just have to get through it every time and win the battle with myself. I believe that it is what makes the work my own.”


From the series Re-membrance of the remembrance © Hye-Ryoung Min

How has your approach changed over the years? If you could turn back time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
“At the beginning of my fine art career, it wasn’t easy to find a way to shape my photographs as a project. It still isn’t the easiest thing, but it becomes more naturally now. When I am able to think outside of the box and open my mind, my thoughts and photographs come together more naturally and support each other. I wouldn’t say that everything I have done was right or there is nothing I’d do in a different way, but if I didn’t have those experiences, I would not be standing where I am now.”

Tell us about your most recent series Re-membrance of the remembrance and what it means to you. 
“It’s a work-in-progress that I started in Woodstock last year by re-reading my diaries from the past 25 years and making self-portraits inspired by them. My diaries contain the words, thoughts, and memories of time and place, which give me a sense of self. It’s not a history or record. It’s my own stories that may not even true. Looking back on who I was became a necessary step in arriving at my forties. This project is visual diary dedicated to my written diaries. They are an act of earnest yearning, consolation, forgiveness and resignation. Also pointing my camera to myself was my long-cherished desire. The series is really coming together and I look forward to an upcoming book and exhibition next year.”


From the series Re-membrance of the remembrance © Hye-Ryoung Min

As a fine artist, what trends in the art world are inspiring you the most right now? Are there any pet peeves you have as an artist these days?
“I don’t think the trends in the art world inspire me much. If anything, I’d have to say that I’m standing against the trends. We call them trends because they come and go. There was a time when I was concerned about trends, but I think I’ve moved from that moment. I get inspired by walks, conversations, people, stories, memories and my own self, but I do get stimulated by other artists and art works as well.

“The form of photography and what it means in a broader perspective has changed a lot in the last ten years. However, I believe that fine art photography is always where it should be. But if I could filter out certain type of images from my social media, it would be nice not to see them. There are some photographs, which are empty of thoughts beyond the surface of the image. They are just pretty and eye catching. They flicker so briefly on the screen. I’m afraid maybe this means the audience for photography – including myself – has became too impatient to relate to art the way it should.


From the series In-Between Double © Hye-Ryoung Min

How do you balance fine art work and commercial work? Do the two feed into one another?
“I’ve been working as a commercial photographer since 2002, so it’s quite comfortable for me to work with clients. These days, I enjoy portraying people, visiting their studio or atelier and interviewing them more than I enjoy doing the fashion editorials that I’ve done in the past. It refreshes me, and I’m glad to have a chance to separate myself from my own little corner from time to time. Most importantly, it pays the rent so I’m able to live as an artist.”


From the series Yeonsoo © Hye-Ryoung Min

What made you decide to get your Masters from SVA?
“After finishing college and embarking on a career as a fine art/commercial photographer, I thought I didn’t need more school time. One day I was lucky to take an Adobe Lightroom workshop with Katrin Eismann, Department Chair at MPS Digital Photography at SVA, and I knew that I must apply to the program. When I came across the curriculum of the SVA Masters in Digital Photography department, I realized that it was exactly what I needed at the moment. I was eager to learn all about digital from top instructors in the same way that I’d learned film.”

What is the most valuable lesson you learned from a professor at SVA? Something you’ll never forget? 
“It was the most intense years in my life, but it was one of the best decisions I made in my life. I was working as a photographer for magazines and making extra money working in a restaurant, so I literally had no time to sleep or eat, but I was more than excited to learn so much and to be able to work on the projects I desired to undertake. Truly understanding my digital gear and having complete control to produce the best quality artwork was key for me. I wouldn’t let anybody other than myself work on my files or make exhibition prints

“MPS DP also opened doors for students to step into the art world, which was valuable for me at that time. I learned what to do, how to communicate, how to manage the business end of things and build my career as a fine artist. The instructors I had at SVA always had an answer for me and never stopped pushing us to reach a higher level. There were no excuses or exceptions at MPS Digital Photo. Once you are in, you have to get with it.”


From the series Personal Landscape © Hye-Ryoung Min


From the series Personal Landscape © Hye-Ryoung Min

You graduated from SVA in 2009. How has your career grown in the seven intervening years? How has your degree affected your life and work?  
“I can’t imagine myself living in New York as an artist without SVA. There were different types of students in the program, and I was the one who had been living as a photographer for a long time but didn’t know how to make a living as a full-time fine art photographer. SVA was a huge support for me, and my fine art career has grown steadily since graduating. Even though I’m out of school, I’m very proud to mention that I’m an SVA alumnus. It still amazes me how much I learned from my education there. I’m not hunting for fame or fortune, but I am grateful to be able to produce my work. And it gives me great satisfaction that it has been received with generous and thoughtful feedback through exhibitions and publications internationally.”


From the series Yeonsoo © Hye-Ryoung Min


From the series Re-membrance of the remembrance © Hye-Ryoung Min

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