Hyungjo Moon doesn’t have many possessions.
His fifth-floor apartment, which looks out over the Broadway subway stop, isn’t so much immaculately austere as carefully curated.The living room/dining room/art studio of his efficient one-bedroom box contains nothing more than a futon-like sofa, a white card table for eating meals, a coffee table surgically stacked with books, a computer desk with a swiveling office chair and a small bookcase with a handful of objects, including a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag, arranged stylishly in front of it.
In his work and in his life, Hyungjo, an artist whose main medium is photography, strives to bring out the beauty of everyday objects by placing them in what he calls “strange new contexts.”
Picture a shopping cart on the sidewalk (it’s right-side-up, but the photo is, jarringly, upside down), a plastic drinking cup defined with a bead of water clinging to its side or a cardboard light-bulb box stuck on the wall like a sconce.
“I use cameras, computer screens and scanners to create a photographic space,” he says. “I look in catalogs or on the Internet to find common objects that are banal and forgotten.”
Hyungjo concedes that his images are made to make you think.
“My work might look different and be hard to understand when you first see it,” he says.
Hyungjo, a serious young man with horn-rim glasses and a smile that looms large when coaxed out, developed his style after studying traditional photography in his native South Korea.
An only child, he grew up in an apartment in Seoul, and when his parents noticed his interest in objects, they encouraged his artistry.
By the time he was in high school, Hyungjo, equipped with a cheap film camera, was also attending a prep school to study photography.
“I went three times a week after school,” he says, adding that the class was 7 to 10 p.m. “I had to take the subway and bus, so it took three hours to get there. Coming home it was faster – I sometimes made it in one and a half hours.”
At first, he focused on journalistic photography, documenting, click by click, the world around him.
“I shot people at the bus stop and trees and protests,” he says. “I captured dramatic moments. It was clichéd; a lot of people were doing it. It wasn’t right for me, so I started studying the work of artists and photographers.”
Hyungjo continued to define his conceptual style while he was at Chung-Ang University in Seoul and got field experience as a photographer during his two years of mandatory service in the army.
“I read a lot of books while I was in the army,” he says. “They were about literature, languages and art.”
By the time he returned to the university, he was determined to make photography his art.
“I decided to make my own style,” he says. “And I tried to focus on conceptual stuff.”
After graduation, he opted to pursue his studies in the United States.
“In South Korea, there are limits on information,” he says. “And it’s hard to do self-study. I thought there would be more artistic opportunities in America, and I wanted to challenge myself.”
He enrolled at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson and moved to Astoria to be close to the school’s studio at the Court Square subway stop.
Internships and roommates helped deflect some of his college costs.
Since his graduation late last year, he’s been working full time at bookdummypress, an independent publishing company and a bookstore/project space in Manhattan that specializes in artist publications.
He creates his art when he has time.
“I’ve been archiving a lot of images,” he says. “I haven’t been printing them out because it’s too costly.”
Hyungjo wants to work full time as an artist.
“I’d like to stay in the United States a little longer,” he says, “because it brings me much more experience and opportunities as an artist.”
Hyungjo, who is 28, knows things will not be easy if he follows this career path.
He mentions getting a studio apartment to cut costs.
That, of course, would mean giving up some of his things.
It doesn’t matter.
Possessions aren’t important.
Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is Sept. 23, 2018.
Copyright 2018 by Nancy A. Ruhling