‘The Koreans of Kazakhstan’ by Michael Vince Kim

By in Interviews on 8. October 2015

In his longterm project “The Koreans of Kazakhstan” Michael Vince Kim explores the identity of the Korean immigrants who were deported  in 1937 to Central Asia from the Soviet Union.

In his longterm project “The Koreans of Kazakhstan” Michael Vince Kim explores the identity of the Korean immigrants who were deported  in 1937 to Central Asia from the Soviet Union.

Ostlook caught up with one of the winners  of the”30 under 30″ Magnums Award, Michael Vince Kim, who continues to work on his ongoing project about the Koreans of Kazakhstan.

OSTLOOK: Well, we read that before coming to photography you studied to be a filmmaker. Tell us more about your background!

Michael Vince Kim: That’s true, i studied Film Directing in Argentina but didn’t really follow that career path and came to study Linguistics in the University of Edinburgh. I was always fond of  languages, maybe because i have a complex background. As i was raised in Argentina, Spanish became my first language, although I spoke Korean at home with my parents.

OSTLOOK:  How did you make a shift from languages to photography?

Michael Vince Kim: I decieded to undertake a field trip to study a rare dialect of the Korean language,  Koryo-mar, spoken by  ethnic Koreans in the former Soviet Union. In 1937 more then hundred thousands Koreans were deported from the Soviet Far East to the Central Asia by Stalin. The biggest Korean community nowadays is to be found in Kazahstan. I went there and started meeting and interviewing people. I had an analogue camera with me and started taking pictures alongside the interviews before i realised that visual story attracted me more than a research. So it became very serious then!

OSTLOOK: Those people living in Kazakhstan..do they still perceive themselves as Koreans?

Michael Vince Kim: Kazakhstan is one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been to. Koreans are highly regarded in Kazakhstan.  And people are proud to be Korean. I  met people who don’t look Korean at all, for example, their mother is Korean and a father is Russian. When i asked about their origian, they would say that they are Korean, not Kazakh, or at least  Kazakhstani-Korean. I was just so fascinated by that!

OSTLOOK: Are you continuing the project?

Michael Vince Kim:  Definitely! This  exists not only in Kazakhstan, there is  a bigger community in Uzbekistan, the biggest in the former USSR. And I would also love to go to Vladivostok, where it all started, to find out more about the history of these people.

OSTLOOK: Are you planning some other projects?

Michael Vince Kim:   I am mainly interested in stories about migration and identity. That is the most personal to me and that’s where I can build the deepest connection with the subject. This is the direction where I’m researching at the moment. I also plan to do some shorter self contained project here in London.

OSTLOOK: Did you need to overcome some personal barriers to make the project?

Michael Vince Kim: There are a couple things. The first, is the uncertanity of realisation of a  photography project as i only had training in the linguistic field. And the second, of course, the language. I took a Russian course prior to my trip and it was enough to get by. But next time I go there I would prefer to have a better knowledge and to not depend on a translator.

OSTLOOK: Has the project already been published in Kazakhstan?

Michael Vince Kim: Not yet. My protagonists and some academics have seen it. But it’ s a very important topic and needs to be shown in the country. I’m happy it was published in South Korea though and I was very shocked that the subject was not known well in Korea.  When Kazakhstani Koreans go to Korea they are not considered to be real Koreans and could suffer some discrimination. 

OSTLOOK: Who were you mentors and inspirations along the way?

Michael Vince Kim: I’ve had a lot of inspiration from Rena Effendi. After attending her workshop we kept in touch and she helped me to develop my project and find a correct approach.  The biggest visual inspiration comes from the work of dutch Dutch painters though, especially the work of Vermeer.

OSTLOOK: And the last questions. When you are not photographing or working in the field, how do you organise yourself?

Michael Vince Kim: I spend a big part of my day applying to different grants and contests and trying to get in touch with publishers. The majority of the time I spend researching for project ideas. I explore the world through articles, books, conversations with friends and Internet.

OSTLOOK: Thank you, Michael! We are excited to see YOUR new stories from Uzbekistan and Vladivostok!

Michael’s website: www.michaelvincekim.com





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