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which is the idea that people experience a direct

Time:2019-04-07 10:26Shoes websites Click:

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 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Korean model Dahye Lee (Instagram @ssoodor) models a modern Vietnamese ao dai dress from Hanoi designer and brand Le Lam in front of a traditional Korean wooden door in the Insadong district in central Seoul.  
By Michael Hurt

There is a power in stepping into someone else's shoes, as the old American expression goes. But it must be done without stepping on the toes of the person who owns them.

What one does in deciding to don the accoutrements and attire of the other is symbolically place oneself into their subject(ive) position. When that act of embodying is recorded into a picture, the clothing and the photographic subject all become elements placed into a larger conversation with environmental elements such as other people, buildings, or other objects in the culture.

This is one way to place objects and people from different nations, places and cultures into direct semiotic (aesthetic) conversation. And when the conversation is part of a good-faith effort to promote bridge building and promote direct, empathetic understanding, much can be learned.

My work these days involves the concept of social empathy and the notion of glocal (where global ideas find specific and unique expression locally) culture. My argument has long been that the social (and media) practice of fashion in Korea is inherently and highly communicative to the point of being a near-medium unto itself. Korean street fashion kids, for example, also take international ideas, brands and trends and localize them into their distinctive forms we see on the Korean streets here and these bounce out again across the world through platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, which Korean youth have mastered astonishingly well and quickly.

In short, I have come to a point where I feel it possible to use fashion as a communicative medium through which to actively promote higher degrees of social empathy and understanding across borders. My main partner in this project is Dr. Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis, who researches and writes on national dress, branding and fashion culture.

The main pillar of support for the project is her New Viet Nam Studies Center at UC Davis. We think there is a lot going on in Vietnam and Korea, as well as between Vietnam and Korea, especially through the medium of dress. And this is the first step in an area I myself have been exploring ever since I started trying to remix the Korean hanbok with non-Korean bodies in my photography to reflect the already ongoing trend of lots of non-Korean people already becoming excited about wearing Korean hanbok.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Korean model April Song (Instagram @april_ssong2) in a modern Vietnamese ao dai dress from La Pham Design Studio (Instagram @laphamhanoi) at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza during Seoul Fashion Week last March.  

Our project's power lies in pictures, in the realm of visuality. It depends on a directly felt form of social empathy, which we call the fashion(ed) gaze. This idea depends on a long-established but little discussed idea in critical dance theory called kinesthetic empathy, which is the idea that people experience a direct, instinctive urge to mirror or respond to the physical motions of another person. This is what lies behind the thrill we see when we watch dance or the heavily choreographic "dance" of heroes in balletic motion in action films. We see amazing moves and want to mirror or mimic them, but we cannot, since we are stuck in our chairs.

The tension we feel between wanting to move but being unable to is why we feel an embodied thrill. The idea we are extending here is that when we see someone dressed impeccably in today's consumer culture, we also feel an embodied thrill in the tension between wanting to fashion ourselves after that person's fashion, but we cannot in that very moment. So this is more than mere consumer desire ― it is an embodied desire to become the other. We imagine ourselves as occupying their shoes.

And what is telling is how many tourists love to put on the clothing of the people in the places they go. Take the business of donning the yellow robes of a Chinese emperor at the Great Wall (for a small fee, of course) ― we get our thrill and snap a picture to preserve that feeling for the future. We temporarily embody the others around us and at least try to taste a modicum of their reality. It may be superficial and it is certainly fleeting; but it is part of the fun of traveling, part of the value inherent in the endeavor itself. But more important than anything else, donning the robes of a Chinese emperor or what many Asian tourists do in Korea ― renting and wearing a traditional hanbok ― allows a brief contact with the holy grail of the tourist experience ― experiencing the authenticity of the culture. This is the thrill we experience when we stand near an object actually owned or worn by a king, queen or any revered figure, whether the scepter of a king, the jacket worn by Elvis, or a Gutenberg Bible. We can momentarily ― through the magic of transference ― access those we revere.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Vietnamese model Nhung Bui - Natalie Lie (Instagram @ nhungbui _) wears a modern Korean hanbok from design brand Heo Sarang Hanbok (Instagram @heo_sarang) in a neighborhood playground in Hanoi in October 2018.  

But the difference between accessing being near a royal scepter in a museum versus putting on the robes of an emperor in the very place where he once ruled is the difference between feeling a "cool authenticity" in the head and the "hot authenticity" in the heart that can be had by embodying the experience one wants to feel. This project tries to make connections through the embodied experience of walking in someone else's shoes in that very mode of hot authenticity in which one can more easily feel empathy for others and express that through the camera.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Vietnamese fashion model and mega-influencer Salim (Instagram @salimhwg) styled herself with top Korean fashion brand Greedilous (Instagram @greedilous_official) in October 2018.  

Right now, Korean style is hot. A Korean mode as defined through dress, music, makeup, and even comportment (what many refer to as the "Korean wave") runs dominant throughout Asia and finds great resonance in Vietnam. My ability even to be able to meet, let alone shoot, one of Vietnam's top models and influencers would not have been possible without such a powerful clothing brand that represented pure, distilled, 180-proof Korean cool for Salim to want so eagerly to embody, picture, and add to her street cred among her domestic followers.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Vietnamese fashion model and mega-influencer Salim (Instagram @salimhwg) in Korean brand Greedilous gear (Instagram @greedilous_official) in October 2018.  

The project is actually a kind of sartorial elicitation project designed to provoke a response in the model, which when recorded in the nexus between the photographer, model and camera that we see as a picture, becomes a conduit for eliciting social empathy through the fashioned gaze of the viewer. As we have come to see ourselves more and more as the sum total of the things we buy and display, as the layers we place over the true inner-self only we can know, we have become a society in which individuals define one another by our digital avatars and the things we say in cyberspace, but the clothing we drape ourselves in becomes even more important as markers of group belonging and the identity politics of the public, social world.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Here, Natalie (Instagram @ nhungbui _), a student and non-pro model who eagerly agreed to do a shoot, was greatly intrigued by the idea of doing a shoot with a hanbok made by Heo Sarang Hanbok (Instagram @heo_sarang), a Korean brand of modern hanbok. The picture is especially interesting because of how it channels the model's ideas of proper comportment and posing that is partially transmitted through the hanbok, how her own sensibilities as a girl, and as a photographic subject who was trying to convey/capture her notion of Koreanness as she asked if it was OK to spin for the camera.  

Especially since clothing and style have become a big part of the Instagram economy and social media spreads notions and brands across the world (especially as national brands), the sartorial acts of people who choose to cast their images across the internet have become more meaningful as the number of people choosing to engage in public modeling, fashion and photography work has increased. Our project's goal is to get in front that process of sartorial signifying in digital media and actively use the process to build stronger, sounder bridges of understanding across increasingly connected cultures. Put more simply, we're trying to connect people (who want to be connected) across borders through art.

 which is the idea that people experience a direct

Here is an organic and unforeseen, and somewhat unintended, convergence around this specific ao dai: the cramped space in a 1920's Seoul theme studio designed for cellphone and hobby photographers, the model Kang Jae Eun's (Instagram @jjen_kang) mood that formed around the clothing and the space, and the photographic choices of the photographer, which all combine to form a final picture that seamlessly merges the modernity of 1920s, colonial Seoul (Gyeongseong) and the modernized ao dai style of La Pham Design Hanoi (Instagram @laphamhanoi).  

This is where art meets social science; where my subfield of Visual Sociology becomes something more than a passively analytical pursuit. What we are trying to create is a proactive, activist push to increase empathetic understanding across national borders in a way that is already happening at a quiet level, but which could help focus, amplify and steer things into a more constructive and purposeful direction as a socially beneficial project.

*All photographs by Dr. Michael Hurt (Instagram @SeoulStreetStudios) and all ao dai styled by Hoang Minh Chau (Instagram @minhchau8290)

Dr. Michael W. Hurt (@kuraeji on Instagram) is a photographer and professor living in Seoul. He received his doctorate from UC Berkeley's Department of Ethnic Studies and started Korea's first street fashion blog in 2006. He researches youth, subcultures and street fashion as a research professor at the University of Seoul and also writes on visual sociology and cultural studies at his blog and book development site Deconstructing Korea. His PR/image curation company Iconology Korea also engages in an effort to positively shape images of social others in Korea, construct a positive face for Korea-based or Korea-interested clients, and positive images of Korea in the world. (Instagram @IconologyKorea)


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