Hyunmin Ryu’s collaboration with his nephew illustrates the importance of play

View Gallery 9 Photos
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Humorous and at-times absurd, the Korean photographer’s ongoing project is a playful observation of his relationship with his 11-year-old nephew

As a child, Hyunmin Ryu was a prankster. Now, at the age of 43, the Korean photographer considers these playful antics the “driving force” behind his work. In many ways, pranks are a physical rejection of the “rules and norms that serve the stabilisation of society,” he says. This outcome can be compared to the intentions behind Marcel Duchamp’s readymade sculpture, Fountain (1917): a provocative statement that challenged modern definitions of art. “A situation in which rhythmic fart sounds resound in a quiet classroom… gives the performer a similar pleasure,” Ryu suggests.

Since 2020, the photographer has been working on a series of images with his 11-year-old nephew. Humorous and at-times absurd, these staged photographs lean into elements of fantasy and illusion. Ryu hopes that the project resonates with his nephew in a similar vein to how he sees pranks – a playful distraction from the monotonous routine of school. 

Eight-eyed Boy. From the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.
Paper Boat. From the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.

The resulting body of work is an example of the importance of play – not just in artistic practice, but in relationships too.

Reflection. From the project Kim Saehyun © Hyunmin Ryu.

The project is titled after his nephew, Kim Saehyun, and was recently awarded the Gomma Grant. It is a departure from the photographer’s previous projects, which he describes as “ideological and out of touch with real life”. Working across photography, video, and installation, Ryu’s practice is conceptual, exploring the limitations of the photographic medium and functioning as institutional critique. His journey into photography began as a retoucher, at his cousin’s printing studio. “It was started not out of an interest in photography, but purely for the purpose of making money,” says Ryu. But, the job piqued his interest in the craft, and he decided to enrol onto the photography course at Chungang University in Seoul. 

This was followed by an MA at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, but rather than pursuing a career in London or Seoul, Ryu decided to return to his homecity, Daegu. In 2012, Ryu moved back into his parents house, with his older sister and her then one-year-old son. This initiated a shift in his practice. “[I wanted to] work blindly in pursuit of pure desire,” he says. Ryu decided to turn his lens onto the person who was most important to him: a subject he could connect with on a personal level.  

“[I] shared the process of growing up with [my nephew],” says Ryu. “He will be the first person I have been fully involved in the process of becoming an adult from birth… Eleven years on, we still live together as best friends.” The resulting body of work is an example of the importance of play – not just in artistic practice, but in relationships too. 

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.