Aujourd’hui, jeudi 24 septembre, je vous propose de partir à la rencontre de Kay Jun, co-créatrice de la Maison d’édition April Snow Press. Avec son associé et mari, le graphiste Jeong Jae-wan, ils ont investit un atelier à Daegu en Corée du Sud, dans lequel ils conçoivent des livres à propos du graphisme ou de la photographie. Ils viennent d’éditer leur dernier livre à propos du célèbre graphiste et typographe Français Massin, qu’ils étaient en train de finir lors de cette interview (livre vert dans les images). C’est dans un petit restaurant de Séoul, autour d’un café et d’un hamburger, que nous nous sommes rencontrées. Généreuse, enjouée et passionnée, Kay Jun m’a guidée dans les sentiers de l’édition, pour me faire découvrir de quelle manière elle les pratique. Je vous souhaite une belle promenade, qui je l’espère vous permettra de vous évader vers d’autres paysages, en ce gris jeudi de septembre.
À très bientôt
Cliquez sur « suite » pour lire l’interview !
Why did you call your publishing house Aprilsnow Press?
It goes back to the year 2012. I went to the veranda of my apartment and what I saw all of sudden was snow falling from the sky. I was totally embarrassed since it was the first of April. I thought, « Aprilsnow could be a good name for our press; kind of poetic and dystopian as well.» I suggested it to my husband and he agreed! We meant it to be the opposite of utopia, but people interpreted it in different ways; for example, some people came up with a revolutionary or political image. Because in the year 1960, there was a huge students movement in Korea, which we call it April revolution; it was a big step towards democracy in Korea. That is why many Koreans have the political image when coming up with April. It was interesting how sometimes people interpret the name of our press.
In your website description, you said you are a design writer. What is a design writer?
For example, Adrian Shaughnessy is a UK-based graphic designer but also a design writer. Rick Poynor is also a design critic and design writer as well. By design writer, we mean people writing about design. Before I switched my major from literature to graphic design, I actually wanted to become a book designer. But when I came to the Graduate School of Hongik University, professors wanted me to research and write something on graphic design. Compared to several countries in Europe, you don’t get much training in writing once you decide to enter an art college. Quite a number of art students feel very distanced from writing. That was the situation when I entered the Graduate School and I was asked to research and write. The actual turning point came with designer Ahn Sang-soo’ s suggestion; when I finished my master’s thesis, Ahn Sang-soo, who has by now left the college and become the head of independent design school, suggested me to write a book on world’s art directors. It was a great honor for me and that was how I became to write my first book. It was published by Ahn Graphics in 2009. Now I’m working on my second.
You did the design, too?
No, it was my husband, who did it. He was then a book designer and still is. My work is more text based and my husband’s is more design based. My second book tries to be a more critical design text compared to the first one; it will cover ten book designers from Europe, USA and Asia. My husband, Jaewan writes on two book designers. Yes, it’s a huge work (laugh) that I have to finish very soon. I’m currently writing an article on my 6th book design. It will probably edited next year. This is my job, and design writer is so far the best term to describe my work. I sometimes write for magazines as well.
To name a few, Monthly Design, Graphic and very rare but once for CA Magazine. I used to write for D+ as well, which closed down a few years ago after three issues. It was a Korean graphic design journal, which was very well designed and edited by Korean graphic design
studio Workroom. They also have a press called Workroom press. It’s one of the best studios in Korea.
They are based in Seoul?
Yes, in Seoul, on the west side of Gyeongbuk Palace.
How do you work in Aprilsnow press? Do you write all books you make? Or are books you edited were written by other people? You explain on the website that you are questioning the relationship between photography, text and design. How do you choose the subjects of the books you want to edit?
To the first question: Yes, I try to write for the books I make. Until so far we have made four photo books. Except for the third book, I contributed an essay to each book. I was really happy to do it, and the artists liked it. For the third one, I couldn’t write due to short time. The book had to be published for the opening of an exhibition. We had to hurry up and there wasn’t enough time left to muse over and write about the photos. Whenever I write something for a photobook, I don’t want to seems too much pedantic. Essays in the photobooks may help the public to understand how to see and understand the photography, so I try to write them easy and smooth by way of mentioning about the physical properties of a photobook, about text-image relationships etc. It’s hard to find that kind of insight in Korean photo-related essays. Mostly, they focus on the photography itself. Whereby I want to see it in a broader context of book, materiality, editorial etc. It’s a different feeling from writing for graphic design, and I would like to write more about photography whenever I have the chance to do it. It’s an enjoyment for me.
How do you make that? Do you ask the artist to make a book with him/her? Or do they ask you to make it?
It’s case by case. Mostly, we suggest them to publish a book and if they agree, I ask if I can contribute with an essay into the photobook. But in case of the second book, the artist came to us first and asked to write an essay as well. The ongoing fifth photobook will also include another essay by me, which was again asked by the photographer.
And how do you find them?
The first artist, I found him on Facebook, I was not a friend of him but he used to be a friend of my husband. They both went to the same university but I didn’t know he was taking photography very seriously. He uploaded some photos on Facebook and I really liked them. So I asked him to work together on our first publication. That’s how we began with the first publication. In case of the second photographer, he came to us first. I have known him for several years; I made a photobook with him several years ago and it worked quite well. He wanted to make a photobook with his photos of Mongolia; what was amazing about the project was, he provided us with the funds for the book production. So we could make something, which we really wanted. It was a very happy project actually; a very lucky one. For the third we had to invest our own money on it; there was no financial help at all. The author of our third photobook is also a very famous poet in Korea but she works as photographer as well since for several years. I really liked her some dreamy but surreal photos but I had the impression that she was not well received in Korean photography field. Later, I found out that Korean photographic circle is quite closed and conservative. She already had two other photobooks published before, but in my opinion, they were not very well designed. That’s why we suggested her a photobook project. At first we wanted a different photography series, but then she came up with a new photo series called “Apple travel” (laugh). We couldn’t reject and sailed on the project. Well, that’s how we interact with the artists. We are also interested in graphic images or photographs made by graphic designers. We could also make a photobook made up of book cover images only that make use of photos. We want to broaden the notion of ‘photobook’.
How do you work with the artists? And how do you introduce your own research about photography, text and design in that book?
It’s actually up to the artist. The way the artist reacts influences our work. For the first and the second photobook, we had almost total freedom with editing and sequencing. In case of the second photobook, the photographer said, « just do as you want. » He gave us his whole portfolio and explained us about the background and concept of his photography work. Based on his explanations, I tried to make a very serious understanding of his work. And then, I started with the concept of the photobook. I try to come up with a concept, which would deliver the artist’s message. But that should be hidden beneath the structure: for that book, I mixed the photos taken in the States and in Mongolia. Although the topic was Mongolia’s urbanization, I wanted to have both pictures to come together since Mongolians and north American Indians used to share similar philosophy and way of life. And just as North American natives suffered from White Men’s invasion and capitalism, so are Mongolians at the moment. Based on that concept I set up a structure separating but also mixing black & white photos and color photos; I suggested it to the photographer and he liked it. We had lots of meetings and decided together on the order of the pictures. Mostly, the structural narrative is suggested by the publisher first, and then discussed with the artist. That’s also how it was done with the first book. The main difference was that with the first photobook, the photographer took pictures for hobby. He didn’t really have a specific topic in his mind. He said that he just shot photos while traveling. I suggested him that I could read a specific message in his photos, so we discussed together about and he agreed. For the third book, we had a few problems because she suggested the photographic narrative first based on her initial idea of the series. It was not the way we usually worked. But once a photograph comes into the book, it becomes a whole new image in the new context. We had some hard time exchanging our thoughts. But we also learned a lot from that experience. (laugh). Overall, the relationship of text, image and design is always in the center of the question. Photography has lived always with text. And design is the medium that bridges photography and text just as we can witness in many photojournalism. I want to raise up that issue through publishing. We still need time. Publishing is another way of research for us.
How do you divide the work between you and him?
Do you have each a specific role?
Yes. I am usually for the concept or the structural narrative, and then, Jaewan is responsible for technical problems such as layout, typography and finishing. In fact, he is more into microtypography. But our roles overlap or devide as well. We work in a quite flexible way. Editing and designing are not separate in a photobook. They are together in one spiral.
What do you think about actual Korean graphic designers? Do you think Korea is a good place to be a graphic designer?
Well… this afternoon I just met someone who just came back to Korea after studying in Switzerland for two years. He told me that Germany is really getting interested in Korean graphic design. Because lots of Koreans go abroad to study and then come back to Seoul, they think that we have lots of different styles. In Seoul, especially. So, for many Europeans, the scene in Korea appears to be quite interesting. Probably an energetic place, you know… styles all mingle together. But as I have been teaching graphic design history and theory, what I’m more interested is the history of Korean graphic design. What we study so far is history of western graphic design, especially US and western Europe. But after the 80’s and 90’s, a very interesting scene rises up in Korea; a kind of big flow. We had Korean war in 1950 and before that, there was the Japanese imperialism. So, there was no time and space of Korean tradition to be revised or criticized in a way. It was just eliminated. People say today Korea has risen out of chaos, out of nothing. So when the war broke out in 1950, there was nothing. It was just like zero point. And from that point on, we had to reconstruct this nation. It’s very unlike France, Germany or Great Britain, who have strong graphic design history accumulated time by time. But now, there are many people coming from abroad and having a lot of influence on young designers. People focus on graphic style, which is a surface. But what might become of Korean graphic design or its history? Does history of Korean graphic design exist at all? Maybe it does exist; but people just don’t want to look back or try not to think it does exist. I’m interested in the difference and border of two things. For example, the difference between Korean and Swiss Graphic design. This difference would make the whole graphic design discourse more productive. I think Korean graphic design history should be written. It’s not only about “style”. I’m more interested in how a certain style emerges, about its manipulation and mechanism. There are not many reviews actually. Well, let’s say, in the field of typography, there might be some. But in a broader spectrum of Korean visual culture, I would say no. In one way, Korea is very energetic, dynamic and very fast at catching something. Koreans are very good at importing styles. And the younger generation is way better in graphic design in terms of concept and technology. But what lacks is making the bridge between present and the past. If that not exist, future doesn’t exist either. Well, it may exist, but it would be just a superficial one, just as we have come through.
I heard a lot about that in others interviews. I think all Korean designers I interviewed said that.
It’s kind of strange and also ironic, people feel the problem but there is no movement actually. For several years there has been a kind of interest growing up to focus on history, and to interpret the scene in modern way. And I guess it’s going to be more visible from next year on. History has been a total absence for Koreans graphic design. For art history or humanity, people have been writing on, it’s different. Graphic design is always linked to the consumerism and mass culture. But as I said, the atmosphere seems to be changing; the young generation also feels the problem. In Korea, Graphic design started from the seventies.. So, it’s relatively a very young field in Korea! If we look at Korean graphic design with the same eyes we look at European culture, there would be no space for Korean graphic design. But if we broad the scope of reference, there are lot of things to talk about actually.
Would you like to make a book about that?
I’m working on my second book right now, so I didn’t have so much time to make a contemporary graphic design review about design.. but I really would like to make it. There is one article that I wrote last year, about Hangul typography titled «The New Voice in Typography: Hangul Typography Posters since 2010”. I made it because I realized that there was some kind of interesting movement of young generation using only hangul typography in there posters. I was welcoming this trend, so I made a review about this culture. In near future, I do not only focus on Hangul typography but also on general trend of Korean visual culture with a focus on graphics. For example, a young Korean typographer Kim Kijo, shares some stylistic features that can be also observed in the seventies Korean letterings. I would like to write a critical review about it; how the similar stylistic features have come about, what they share together and what is different. It’s very interesting since the seventies Korea was under dictatorship. Also, in terms of Hangul typography, there should be more experiments to be done. I hate posters wich are created in Korea and that are set only in Roman alphabets. I asked once to some Korean designers, why did they use to design posters in that way in Korea, and the answer was usually because they want their message to be universal, to be able to communicate as broad as possible. But it’s a very bad excuse (laugh). If you look at Swiss posters, they are multi-lingual (italian, french, german and sometimes rhéto-roman). Roman alphabets is not the only way of designing “universal” posters aiming at global audience. We need more ‘graphic’ tension, and multilingual typography would be a good alternative. I’m standing for ‘graphic’ tension. And after all, why should we have to be friendly to the global audience if we do not aim to be global corporates?
Who is your favorite designer?
Cheong Byeong-kyoo. He is a mentor of me and my husband. He’s
one of the first generation book designers in Korea. He went to Paris
for one year and studied at École Estienne. It seems that he must
have been inspired by Pierre Faucheux, the French book designer.