Sandy Kim is one of NYC’s rising art stars. Her photographs flitter on the edge of confronting to breathtakingly beautiful. With several books published, editorials in Purple and exhibition openings that are more like block parties, spilling out onto the streets, RUSSH catches up with the energetic Kim over baked eggs in Williamsburg.
Tell me where you grew up and what that was like.
Basically I was born in Monterey, California; then I moved to Sacramento; then I moved to San Jose; Portland, Oregon; Tacoma, Washington; back to Portland; then back to San Francisco, California; then San Jose for a second; back to San Francisco; and then to New York.
Wow, why so many moves?
I don’t know, my family I guess. My parents just got sick of living places a lot. I guess I kind of got that from them. But they opened a really successful restaurant in San Jose when I was younger they kept doing it; they would start a restaurant and sell it. So they started the one in San Jose then they decided to do one in Portland (I don’t know why, probably because there’s a lot of Korean people) – and it was really successful as well. So they sold that one and were like 'Okay, we’re going to go to Tacoma, Washington', and they opened that one and they got scammed by a contractor. My parents were not very smart about it either, but I guess they gave him 60 grand and he ran… apparently he got killed. I guess he was a full time… what do you call it? … A grifter! I think that’s what those people are called who rip people off – you know, that scam people – because he wasn’t actually a contractor.
When did you first start taking photographs?
I took a black-and-white photography course in high school. I wasn’t really exposed to art back then. I was always a creative person, I was always drawing and stuff, but I never thought of the idea of being an artist was even an option that people valued. Then I moved to San Francisco to go to college – I got a BFA in Graphic Design actually. I started taking photos in San Francisco because I was going out, meeting all these interesting people – art was around now. I was going to music shows. I had a Polaroid camera that I found at my parents’ house so I started taking polaroids and I enjoyed seeing all these photos. It was exciting to see something and create something. I guess it was 2006 or 2007, I was doing Polaroid photos, my friend Brian gave me a blog. Then I met that band Girls – they kind of got big for a second but they’re not a band anymore. So I had instant chemistry with them. They saw my work on my blog and were like, 'You’re really good. Do you want to photograph us?' I guess I was just photographing anyways, but I took press photos and they got kind of big. My friend Brian would be like 'Wow, there’s 10,000 people a week looking at your blog!' … So that got me excited too, so I just kept creating.
Also, I started shooting because I used to be really crazy and go out all the time and get fucked up and not remember anything – so it’s like a journal. And it still kind of is a journal for me because I take a lot of photos and I won’t develop my pictures for like three months – at least with my personal work. And I’ll even get like 60 rolls back and be like, 'Wow, I don’t remember any of this happening.' That’s the main reason I take photos … I just like creating things.
Were there any artists or photographers that you looked up to when you were taking photos?
No. When I first started taking photos I totally didn’t know anything about photography and then a lot of people started comparing me to Ryan McGinley … My friend Brian actually was like 'Do you know Ryan McGinley’s work?' and I was like 'No', and he showed it to me and I remember first seeing them and being like 'Holy shit, this is so good', so that was my first exposure.
Back then, what did you like to take photos of?
Everything! I literally took photos of every moment – friends, self-portraits, my boyfriend, after sex photos – literally every single moment of my life. I didn’t put all of it on the internet. I have photos of the darkest and the most beautiful moments of my life documented, but I don’t want to show everything.
What was it like meeting Ryan McGinley?
It was awesome, I instantly fell in love with him. We met at a festival because I was with the band Girls and my boyfriend and Ryan were fans of the band as well, so we all went and partied together. He checked out my work after he met me and liked it … He selected me for a feature in Dazed & Confused. That was another reason why I think I got exposure was because Ryan McGinley chose me for his favorite photographer back in 2009. Also in California, I had a solo show there and Ryan had a solo show there, Petra (Collins) was there too – everyone.
And you've had a book published?
Yeah, it was called Into The Light. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of it but there’s like a ray of light coming out of the… My parents are in it too – there’s a silhouette of them. The reason I made that book was actually so I could show my parents, because all of the other books I wouldn’t show my parent.! But this one was about light and was pretty; you know, feminine, nothing too vulgar or explicit.
I love that you don’t really reference a lot in your work, it’s just mainly you...
I do, I mean I listen to a lot of music and stuff … I guess I find a lot of inspiration in music. I do watch a lot of movies and stuff to but I don’t go looking for inspiration. Sometimes I do, depending on the project; for a shoot I’ll sometimes have to look for research. Music just creates feeling for me and then from that it kind of creates vision too. I don’t know if that works for everyone. Because music will influence the way I feel, like for instance walking down the street the other day and I had my headphones on and I’ll be listening to a song and see the way the light falls on something and that will inspire me. Also stories, and I like art books … I do a lot of skimming. It’s also kind of bad I think, because it’s good to keep up with what’s relevant.