The Photographs of SVA Alumnus Soonchoel Byun Examine Family and Society
August 22, 2019
Soonchoel Byun, Gangwon-do Sokcho-si, 2013, from “National Song Contest,” archival pigment print
<p "="">An open book, showing a black-and-white illustration of two adults and one child on the left page and a black-and-white photograph of three adults on the right page.

A spread from photographer and SVA graduate Soonchoel Byun’s book Eternal Family (2015).

As a newly arrived student at SVA, Soonchoel Byun (BFA 1999 Photography) felt inspired by “everything” around him, he says. At first, he mostly photographed children and the elderly—given his tentative English, “it was easier to engage with them.” Gradually, though, he became more outgoing, and ambitious. His New York City work culminated with an early-2000s series of portraits of interracial couples that has been widely shown. In 2010, a photograph from the project was included with work by Henri Cartier Bresson and Irving Penn as part of the London exhibition and charity auction “A Positive View,” and he credits the series with securing his representation some five years ago with Arario, one of Seoul’s preeminent galleries.
Since returning to South Korea in 2001, Byun has pursued projects that capture aspects of the country’s society. Last year, Arario debuted his “Eternal Family” series, which features North Korean refugees and their photographs of the family they left behind. Using computer technology, Soonchoel aged the subjects of these family photos, to suggest what the long-unseen relatives might look like today. Also in 2018, he received a midcareer retrospective, “Don’t Move,” at the GoEun Museum of Photography in the South Korean city of Busan; the exhibition catalog is his sixth monograph to date.
Byun is currently at work on a new series, taking portraits of highly sophisticated humanoid robots that are being developed for the South Korean government. “The robots are like real children,” he says. “They are ‘adult’ robots, but from my point of view, they are children.”

A version of this article appears in the spring 2019 Visual Arts Journal.

<p "="">A color photograph of a family—a father, daughter, mother and baby—sitting on a red couch.
Soonchoel Byun, Interracial Couple, 2001, archival pigment print.