MJ Kim: Shadow Of Light

Musician Kid Rock doing some lighting up of his own.

DPP: How did that evolve into a career?

Kim: While I was in London, there was a huge economic crisis in Korea in 1998 so my parents couldn’t support my studies any longer. I stopped my film studies at the university and started working as a photographer trainee at a very small news agency in London. I was just trying to survive in the UK. There were four trainees in the agency; I was the only foreigner. At the end, they hired me and a British guy as full-time photographers. The agency specialized in court cases. In the UK, you can’t take cameras inside the courtroom by law so our agency was photographing people involved in big cases going in and out of court.

DPP: It was kind of like being paparazzi for the legal system.

Kim: Exactly. I worked there about a year, then got a freelance job shooting for The Daily Telegraph for about a year, then the Press Association, which is like the AP in the U.S., offered me a job. Eventually, Getty Images offered me a position as senior entertainment photographer in London. I was with them in that position from 2004-2007. In 2008, after years of working in the photography field, I did my MA in Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion. I didn’t have to first finish my BA because of all my practical experience in photography.

DPP: You felt you were still missing something in spite of all the experience and success you had enjoyed in the field?

British actor Bob Hoskins in one of his final roles, posing for Kim.

Kim: Yes, I did. I was becoming more and more interested in portraiture. I knew how to do live-action shoots because I was a news photographer. That was good, but at the same time, I wanted to create my own images, but I didn’t know how, so I decided to go back to school and learn. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was in school and working at the same time.

I think you can learn technique such as studio lighting fairly quickly, but I think the more important thing to learn is the understanding of what’s behind the images, why you think this image is beautiful, why you want to create these kind of images. I had a lot of whys—question marks in my head—that’s why I decided to go back to school.

DPP: And did the experience in school answer most of them?

Kim: Yes, and maybe the most important one—getting a reference before the shoot. When I did a portrait session with someone before I went back to school, I just wanted to create a beautiful image, but didn’t really appreciate what a beautiful image was. I didn’t know how to prepare a shoot. I learned that in school. I also learned to look at not just photography, but painting and architecture, as visual inspirations. It was in school that I learned about Caravaggio. I could then apply this awareness to the images that I wanted to get. I gained much more depth in photography at the London College of Fashion.

DPP: How did you end up becoming Paul McCartney’s personal photographer?

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