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I Portray My Emotions and Feelings – Conversation with Rala Choi

FRAMES will be presenting photographs by Korean artist Rala Choi at the upcoming edition of the Photo Basel photography fair.

Today, we are sharing with you a brief conversation with Rala Choi that reveals some of the creative thought processes behind his work.

FRAMES: Tell us about yourself.

Rala Choi: I am a photographer from Korea who works in analog photography. I started taking pictures when I was in the military in my early 20’s and my job was a coast guard and taking photos to report accidents. Afterward, I began to study photography on my own.

Photography is a mirror of my inner self. I take photos of the things I experience and express my feelings and emotions with colors and characters. I have always been interested in human feelings and mainly in expressing relationships between people. I want my photography to embody contradictory emotions such as loneliness and warmth. 

© Rala Choi

Who are the photographers that inspired you the most? 

Paolo Roversi and Sarah Moon. 

Could you tell us about how you photograph? 

My work starts with thinking, and it’s actually implemented through drawing materialization. I usually use natural light and only use lighting to take pictures when I need to emphasize it. 

Could you share with us how your process has evolved over the years? 

I first started taking pictures with a digital camera, and now I am working with a film camera. Since I started taking pictures in the army in 2006, I have worked on commercial/commissioned works from 2009 to 2016. However, I gradually realized that commercial work does not fulfill me that much.

Since 2016, I have rarely worked on commercial photography. I received a lot of support from musicians and friends so that I could focus on immersing myself in the work I wanted to express, and I have reached this point. At first, I took pictures of the things I experienced little by little, but gradually, I expressed my feelings with colors and characters. Currently, I am working on expressing the relationship between people. 

© Rala Choi

Many of your subjects are photographed from behind, faceless. Why? 

When I was in my 20s, I really wanted to talk, but I didn’t do that because of certain circumstances in my life. At the time, I thought there must be people in the same situation as me, so I started sharing my images on my Instagram account and received initial recognition and positive feedback from my followers. This is how I started to work on the ‘People’s Back’ series for my personal artwork. “Her” series is an extension of the ‘People’s Back’ series. Nude (showing everything), Turning Back (showing nothing). I wanted to capture not only the outside of the person but also the inside. I wanted to remove all external elements and express the natural beauty of a person. 

Most of your works have a very painterly character. Tell us more about it. 

I get a lot of inspiration from paintings, and I find beauty in a very minimal form; the poses and costumes of the characters are simplified, using a few different kinds of color. Also, I like to use natural light, so the use of light and the grain of the film make it look more like a painting, I think.

© Rala Choi

What is the major reference in the development of your collection? 

I get a lot of inspiration from painters of the 18th and 19th centuries: Eugène Delacroix, Gustav Moreau, and Duchamp. My favorite American artists are Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. I also like Korean artists: Whanki Kim and Kyung-ja Chun. I like music, the classical music of Bach and Mahler. I listen to ECM recordings, too. I like short quotes or words that inspire me these days.  

Where does the photography end and the painting begin (and vice-versa)? 

I want my photography to embody contradictory emotions such as loneliness and warmth. To that end, my work is a multilayered process. First, I take a “photograph” through the use of natural light, static portrait poses, grain of film, and limited use of color. Then, the music that I listen to during retouching and my mood at the time instinctively determine the tone and color of the overall photograph. 

I think this process of visualizing emotional elements is conceptually similar to the process of “painting” – expressing emotions rather than recording what actually exists. While a painting-like photograph is not the specific intention, I am satisfied with such an outcome. 

© Rala Choi

A lot of your work revolves around introspection and deepening one’s own feelings. How do you think you convey your emotions so well through every photo and concept? 

I usually draw and make notes of what I feel and my emotions in daily life. It is not fantasy or imagination; it is my emotions and feelings in real life that I think people sympathize with, as we are human beings. 

I just thought it was best to boldly exclude miscellaneous things and simply express the core that I wanted to express in pictures. 

What themes do you like to explore? 

The subject is always human feelings. I focus on expressing my thoughts rather than understanding the viewer through the work. 

What do you believe is the most interesting thing happening in photography these days? 

Many artists experiment with various methods (collages, installations, painting on photographs, etc.) to “show” photography as art, and I realized that many such photos were actually shown at the Paris Photo Fair in 2022. “What is photography?” seems to be a question many of us are trying to answer yet once again.

© Rala Choi

RALA CHOI

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Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>


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