I began photographing in Asia about ten years ago. I started doing documentary photography in New York when I was studying photography, and moving on from there I photographed in Vietnam, Cambodia and, of course, Korea, where I was born and raised. In the past four years, I have photographed very extensively in Bhutan, the last Buddhist kingdom of the Himalayas, and that work has resulted in two gallery exhibitions and a book, called Simply Bhutan—Land of the Thunder Dragon.
I think all my Asia work is similar in theme. I like to photograph people in their everyday lives, not posed.
I don’t do landscapes or architecture or abstracts. I want to show how people live, and their emotions and experiences. I find that it’s harder and harder to get pure images like that, even in places like Cambodia and Vietnam. People pose for you, and they want money in exchange for being photographed. It’s not like that in Bhutan. They are very open and curious about you, and their way of life is more pure, simple and happy, at least as I see it.
I learned about Bhutan after reading a novel by Isabel Allende, called Kingdom of the Golden Dragon. The book is set in a fictional land, but I loved its description of a utopian kingdom where the people live for happiness, not competition and materialism, and the King rules for the benefit of the people. When I learned that the novel’s setting is based on Bhutan, I became curious about the country and eventually made up my mind to go there. I fell in love with Bhutan and its people almost immediately. Almost everyone I met there was happy and honest—not naive, but good people.