“The Culture”: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

The Culture” © JT White

This guest blog post is by JT White, a street photographer currently based in Seoul, Korea.

JT: Eric and I often talk about projects as we work on them. We often help each other edit, sequence. He usually does the editing, me the sequencing. I suppose that is just what we’re good at. While editing my project, The Culture, Eric asked if I would write a short post about the project and how it came about.

As a bit of background, Eric and I have been friends for a long time. We taught a Leica Workshop together in Seoul a couple of years ago. Shortly after that workshop I came back to Canada. During that time I had four different Leica cameras and a bunch of lenses. I was like the king of gear. I had everything and bought and sold everything else.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

When I got back to Canada, some things changed. Circumstances changed. After six months there I was down to nothing but my cell phone as a camera. Photography projects were off the radar. After some necessary sulking, ha, I was introduced to Korean tattoo artist Brad Aum by a friend who had heard my talk about getting a portrait tattoo of my father.

Around the same time, someone who followed my blog reached out and gave me an old M5 they weren’t using anymore. After Brad finished the portrait of my Dad I took his portrait with whatever film was leftover by the previous owner.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

After thinking on it for a while I felt like there was a decent connection there. The idea of a Korean tattoo artist is a strange one to me having lived there. Tattoos are illegal (unless under very certain circumstances) in Korea.

I reached out to Brad again through a friend and asked if I could hang around his shop a little bit because I was interested in tattoos. Pretty interested in my strange ability to speak Korean he let me come around a bit. I didn’t take photos at first, I just watched.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

I still remember that first day. I remember the vibe was so different than at most tattoo shops. Brad and his apprentice Reny seemed like a little family. Brad’s wife Lucy and their daughter Wooju stopped by in the middle of Brad tattooing a guy named Steve. Instead of being angry he gave Wooju a high five and she kissed him on the cheek. Even the customers were like family.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

At the end of the night, Lucy invited me to their house (first time she had ever met me) to eat. She said men don’t know how to take care of themselves, especially young men.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

After that, I started coming around the shop often, now with a camera. I didn’t really want it to be about the tattoos, but the family. I could see a story that I wanted to remember. I hadn’t thought much about posting it or putting it online, more just about having a record. I spent several months going to the shop nearly all the time. I really didn’t take that many photos, just when I felt like it. Somehow I felt like that was how it had to be.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

I learned so much from the experience I had with Brad and his family. I learned so much about gumption and perseverance. I learned about friendship and responsibility. Maybe I took some photos, but in the end I’ll remember these several months in a way I could never have captured in photographs. A friend said that he felt there was such a deep story in the photos when he first saw them, but I couldn’t really see it. I suppose I feel like they never really could tell the story of those months the way I will remember them.

1x1.trans The Culture: Documenting the Life of a Korean Tattoo Artist by Josh White

“The Culture” © JT White

If you want to see the project in entirety you can click here or on any of the photos in this post.

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  • Paul Holmes

    I like the story behind the images and the dramatic, low key effect but, other than that, I’m afraid the content doesn’t really appeal to me.

    • Josh

      Sorry you feel that way, Paul. Have you seen the project in entirety or just the images here?

      • Paul Holmes

        Hi Josh, Thanks for coming back. I checked out the whole project before commenting. Hey, and don’t worry too much about what I think, you ain’t gonna please all of the the people all of the time. I just expressed my view.

  • John Wolf

    That’s funny, Paul. I feel the opposite – like the subject but not the heavy processing. Like a song in which I can’t make out the words. Just my opinion, Josh. Thanks for sharing your story and photographs.

    • Josh

      That is interesting as well John, since most of it was shot on film and just processed in the dark room. Perhaps my heavy hand, but it is what it is. It is how I saw it, thus I shot and processed it that way. I guess it is a bit of personal taste. I appreciate the comment, though.

      • Netizen

        Never seen film look bad. Seen your digital photography too. It looks bad too.

  • Phil

    I really enjoyed the project, and interesting to know how you went about it as well. For me the images of Remy are really interesting, a very deep character and you get the feeling there is so much history in those shots. Congrats Josh, I think it’s great work and the context is compelling.

    • Josh

      I appreciate that, Phil.

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  • Joshua Lui

    I feel the emotions. the love. Thank you Josh for sharing Brad’s story. Its such an amazing adventure!