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Yunghi Kim: Master Of Standing Ground

Now, as the photographer and teacher is settling into her version of slowing down, she has turned her eye and cherished wide-angle lens to matters at home. Kim’s recent black-and-white series that captures the visceral intensity of the Occupy protests is all the more shocking when you realize that the majority of the action was photographed up close with her 24mm lens.

“By the time you’ve figured out if you’re going to change the lens, sometimes you’re better off running in,” Kim says, “rather than trying to figure out which different lens is on your other body. Sometimes you do need to do that because the police won’t let you get close, but I wanted to be able to run with the protesters. These are, like, 20-year-old kids or younger, so it was challenging to keep up with them. They would play these cat-and-mouse games where they would run away from the cops, and I would have to go and run away with them. And, then, also, sometimes I’m running backward and shooting as I’m running. If I have a long 70-200, I don’t think I can do that.”

When asked if she had problems with the police herself, Kim admits, “I got pushed down by police. I think I’m thankful that I wasn’t arrested because there were a lot of photographers and journalists who were.” She quickly follows this up by saying that she wished she had been even more aggressive in her coverage. She would watch and follow the “NYPD top brass” as they moved to surveillance of many of the most active groups, which she would, in turn, document, as these were clearly the protestors of most interest to the authorities.

“I have a nose for news,” says Kim. “Having been in the industry and having a newspaper background for 12 years, I know a good story when I see it,” she laughs. “So when this Occupy thing happened, I came across it by accident, and it’s right in my backyard in New York City, a 20-minute subway ride. So how can you not cover it? It’s part of New York history, really.”

Continues Kim, “There are photographers who focus on their work only, and there are those who want to educate others. I’m the latter. I use social media to educate and share what I know of 30 years. Also, I’m a big believer in capturing a moment as it unfolds. Position yourself to be there to document when shit is going down. This was my approach and focus with the protest. I wasn’t interested in static ‘holding signs’ images, but rather I wanted to focus on the energy within these protests.”

“I like to think that if you look at the Comfort Women and the Rwandan refugee crises, there’s a certain amount of intimacy and emotion,” Kim says. “Those are the qualities that are important to me, that I’m able to establish intimacy with a situation or subject, and also capture the emotions of the people that I photograph. That’s always been the signature for me; a lot of my assignments in the past are based on that. So whether a refugee crisis or a profile on a CEO or doing a story on the Comfort Women, it’s really about telling a story about who they are and what their emotions are.”

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