Once the public has a widely held opinion, it doesn’t change easily. This is especially true for celebrities. Once pigeonholed, a famous person can find it very tough to change preconceived notions or be evaluated by an open mind, even if the perception doesn’t really reflect what that person really likes to do or what they are actually like.
Seonghyeon Baek is a rapper better known as “Bbaek Ga” in Korea, famous for being part of the K-pop trio Koyote. Tattooed on his right arm is the text “1 2 3 Cheese,” along with the image of a person taking a picture. That’s because Seonghyeon is also a professional photographer, who has been taking pictures for the past 10 years under the name “by100.” He was the first Asian photographer to be chosen by Leica, the German camera company, who acknowledged his years of excellent work.
Even so, Seonghyeon says that he is still very cautious about presenting himself as a photographer in public, not wanting his photography to be overshadowed by the glamour of his life as a pop idol. But what does “Photographer by100” mean to Seonghyeon, and how is it different from his other life as a rapper?
Boyhood Friend: His Camera
Seonghyeon’s family was not well-off when he was little. When his friends went to ride their bikes or played with BB-guns, he just stayed behind and played by himself because his family couldn’t afford those toys for him.
But there was one thing that made Seonghyeon the center of attention – the camera. At home, he came across a camera, and it wasn’t long before it became his unofficial job to take class pictures on field trips or excursions. Everyone, including teachers and friends, loved the pictures that he took, and his photographs often were hung up on the board at the back of the classroom.
Seonghyeon planned on going to college to major in photography, but delayed his studies to save up money for tuition. Around that time, he auditioned for a dance group, thanks to the encouragement of his friend Jihoon Jeong (better known as Rain, one of the most successful performers in K-pop), and made the cut. Before he knew it, Seonghyeon was in the middle of a demanding career as a pop idol, but photography always held a special place in his heart. In fact, one of the first things he bought with his singing money was a new camera.
His chance to return to photography came by happenstance. In 2006, he posted some photos to his personal blog, which then went viral. Soon, a new name was born: “by100.” The fashion magazine Vogue reached out to him, wanting to publish his pictures. The editor-in-chief at that time even offered him a position as a photographer there, not knowing that by100 was also Bbaek Ga of the dance group Koyote.
Just like that, Seonghyeon’s life as the photographer by100 began. He built his career doing photography for many fashion magazines in Korea, including Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Arena.’
For years, he was careful to keep by100 and Bbaek Ga quietly separate, wanting his work to be viewed without preconceived ideas. “There’s nothing you can do about people having preconceived notions about me because a lot of people know me,” he said. “But as far as photography goes, I want to be fully acknowledged for it as myself, not as a singer”.
Bresson and a 35mm Camera
Seonghyeon’s favorite photographer is the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Capturing the right composition of space at the right moment, Cartier-Bresson’s work has had a tremendous influence on contemporary photo journalism. In his first year at university in 1997, Seonghyeon became enamored of Cartier-Bresson’s works after seeing them in a small gallery in Insa-dong, Seoul. “The dynamic structure in his photos and the ability to capture just the right moment were really amazing. He patiently observes his subjects, and then presses the shutter to capture the critical moment. He reminds me of a hunter,” Seonghyeon said.
Recently, Seonghyeon has been focusing on nature photography. He fills his bag with fresh film rolls, and wanders around until he finds scenes he wants to capture. His photos make you feel as though you have entered a new world. Sometimes dreamlike, and other times sharp and piercing, his works reveal his unique perspective.
When asked what kind of work he would like to produce in the future, he says he wants to produce photos that can “move people’s emotions.” “I would like to find ways to communicate with the public without being restricted to formulae and technique,” he explains.
“I am Lucky to be Loved for Doing what I Love”
Seonghyeon likes to take his time when selecting a product that he is going to use. Once he makes his decision, he does not change easily. This is the reason why he insists on using a 35mm film camera in this era of digital cameras – he is used to the way the camera fits in his hands. He loves how they feel just like his first camera. The fact that one roll of film barely holds 30 picture does not bother him at all. For Seonghyeon, it actually feels more natural.
“I am moving soon. In the new place, the Serif TV will sit between my favorite chair and speaker.”
Similarly, Seonghyeon chose Serif TV because he thought it was the kind of product that he could use for a long time. “I thought [Serif TV] was unlike anything I had ever seen. Normally you replace a product after few years, but Serif TV’s design has been perfected to such a high level that you will want to keep it until it breaks,” said Seonghyeon.
As he is moving into a new place soon, he has already figured out where he will place his new Serif TV. “I don’t watch TV that often, but I do keep up with some programs I like. Once I move, I would like to place the TV between my favorite chair and the speaker to watch those programs I enjoy.”
“So far I have been lucky enough to be loved for doing something I love. I do not know with certainty what I will be doing in the future, but I hope I will continue receiving support from many people.”
Seonghyeon’s interests extend beyond being a singer and photographer. He is also the owner of a cactus shop – the popular Cycle de l’Eau – and an essay writer. His interest in cactuses developed when he was fighting a brain tumor in 2009. “While all the other flowers in my hospital ward withered, only the cactus survived. I was very touched by its strength,” he explained.
Entering Cycle de l’Eau, what grabs your attention is the cactus vases. Empty cans, plaster casts, drawers – all sorts of unusual objects have been transformed into vases. The shop actually started with Seonghyeon casually planting cactuses in empty cans to give to his friends as gifts. Even now, he sometimes plants a cactus for customers who bring their own recycled vases.
Seonghyeon’s journey has not finished yet. Although he worked hard throughout his life, he is always grateful for the love he received while doing what he loves. “As I look back on my life, I was privileged enough to be able to do a variety of things that I love. Fortunately, I also received good responses for what I did. I do not know with certainty what I will be doing in the future, but I hope I will continue to receive support from many people,” he said. Like the old 35mm film camera that has been so important to him, may his future music, photos, and other activities also receive long-lasting love from the public.
* The content of this post are based on a sponsorship from Samsung Electronics.