Our latest Behind The Lens interview features UK fashion photographer Alex Finch based in Seoul, South Korea. The seasoned street style and editorial photographer has been documenting Seoul Fashion Week for the past five years and is a contributor to Vogue.
DIANE ABAPO: Hello Alex – I discovered your feed from a friend who saw that photo of the two young kids you spotted on the Vogue Runway Instagram with car-shaped suitcases. Let’s take it back further: How long have you been living in Seoul and what initially drew you to relocate to Seoul from the UK? Where else have you lived?
ALEX FINCH: Hi there, Diane. Thanks for getting in touch. I think I knew that that photo would get some traffic (haha). I moved to Seoul almost straight out of university and other than living in Stavanger, Norway for two years as a child, I haven’t lived anywhere outside of the UK. To call this my ‘home’ is becoming more and more natural sounding to me (just don’t tell my mum!)
How did you get into shooting street style and editorial fashion photography?
I remember before I left the UK buying, at the time, what I thought to be a nice little point and shoot camera (Samsung, I think) and since then I have always enjoyed recording what I’m doing and posting for others to see. After a slow start and spending a couple of years keeping my head down and working to save money, I met some friends and one of them was pretty big on cameras. Eventually, after changing my camera more often than was ever necessary, he sent me a link to The Sartorialist’s Intel project where it followed him around the city and showed his process for capturing street style. My friend said that seeing as I had just bought a Canon 5D and had a long black coat (similar to that which Scott wears in the video), I should go out and do the same. For a reason that I still don’t quite understand, I agreed and began shooting. It was slow at first (read; very slow) but I got going and met some other photographers (the turning point), and the rest was a lot of hard work and long hours in all weather.
Living in Seoul, is there a language barrier between you and your subjects?
That was almost the point in the beginning. To give myself that challenge and force myself to open up and engage in a language that is not my own - for a crippling shy person, that’s pretty wild. I got better and now I do most of my ‘business’ in my second language. Still embarrassed considering how long I’ve been here, haha.
Your portrait and editorial photography has a very ethereal aesthetic to it. The female subjects you photograph look very relaxed, demure, and in their element. What’s your approach to connecting with someone you are photographing for the first time?
Firstly, let me thank you for your kind words. Having no background in photography, I still find it difficult to accept praise and feel like there are plenty of other people far more deserving. However, I think my general smiley, happy nature has helped me a lot and although the language has previously been a barrier, it almost helped me a little, too. I haven’t photographed anyone straight up without knowing them through someone for quite a long time, but I tend to talk a lot and make sure that before we meet, they know exactly what kind of shots I want to take. Honesty is key. I’ve heard far too many stories of photographers waiting for the models to arrive before trying to get them to do something they weren’t prepared for.
What is your approach when shooting street style photography, say, at Seoul Fashion Week? (How long have you been documenting SFW, by the way?) Are there any particular colors, or certain brands, articles of clothing that catch your eye when you roam the streets?
This is the 5th season (3rd with VOGUE) and I try my best to document it rather than get involved in it. I would rather my subjects ignored me almost completely and I was able to be an invisible watcher. I’m a sucker for prints and big logos, but I must say that I will always check someones shoes first. It’s a thing I do and I can’t really explain why. Of course I have brands that I keep an eye out for, but because either I like wearing them or because they produce one of the things I just mentioned.
What are some essentials you carry with you at all times when out shooting?
Either my Nikon D810 + 85mm or my newer Leica Q. Also, phone, wallet and lip balm.
There are some very stylish young kids in Seoul that a lot of your followers love commenting and pointing out on your Instagram feed. (Little fashionistas!) Are you ever amazed by the fashion you see in Seoul, and that the fashion there is transcendent of age even?
I was in the beginning, but I’m somewhat used to it and I enjoyed seeing someone I haven’t for a while and noticing that their tastes have changed, or that they’re following a new style. As for the kids, that’s rare and they only really come out at fashion week. They all work as ‘models’ for kids shopping malls.
What are some of your favorite brands right now?
I like PALACE SKATEBOARDS after working on some projects over here in relation to them. I like ADIDAS ORIGINALS for sporty stuff and I’ve recently bought a lot of gear from the UNIQLO x LEMAIRE collaboration range. I like simple things with a splash of color, or a statement piece. I also have a lot of Raf Simons x Stan Smith sneakers…
Your favorite go-to spots in Seoul?
Apgujeong and Cheongsam - for shooting and hanging out with friends.
What is one trend you are noticing as you browse through your photographs from the 2016 Seoul Fashion Week?
VETEMENTS and the fake ‘big brands’ that are being sold for a fraction of the cost just across the road. Denim is also really big and sneakers that HYPEBEAST would be proud of.
Where do you feel most SUSPEND-ed (lose track of time, etc.)?
Working through Lightroom libraries can see me losing track of time a lot, but also reading and jumping on the PS4 when I want to unwind. I won’t deny that I love finding a quiet coffee spot in Seoul and just sitting back and enjoying the alone time, browsing Twitter and assimilating media. It’s nice and it calms me.
Interview by Diane Abapo
Follow Alex Finch on Instagram at @iamalexfinch