HB Nam: A Look Into Documenting Street Fashion Photography

HB Nam, known as Nam in the international fashion world, is one of the leading photographers in street fashion photography. He works with the likes of ELLE France, Grazia Italy, GQ Japan, Vogue Japan and Style.com.

We met with HB Nam for lunch at the end of 2014, just a few days before he left for London for Men’s Fashion Week. His cat, Taewon, joined our conversation too! You can read our first interview with Nam here.

Q: Can you please introduce yourself?

A: Hi, I am Hyun Beom Nam. I’m a street photographer and I started my work in 2010. I saw many street fashion shots on the internet with people who were so splendidly dressed up and walking around the streets. I was kind of into these photos and then I became curious. Who are these people and why do they walk around the streets with such gorgeous outfits? In my whole life, I’d never seen these sorts of people around me, never around my street, never in real life.

Q: Why do you use Leica cameras for your work?

A: The biggest reason is concentration. I realized that when I shoot the subject with other cameras, I do not concentrate as much as I do with a Leica. My Leica is a fully manual camera that requires effort when using it. And it’s really fast when you know how to set up the camera settings, like focal length and aperture. When your body is kind of used to it, it’s quicker than any other cameras. What you have to do is move the focus ring. Therefore, there is no waiting time for “tee-dee” (the sound of autofocus), you just click and click. To capture the decisive moment – Leica is fast. And sure, bigger efforts = better results.

Q: Can you describe your photographic style?

A: I think my photographs express my personality. I am not that concentrated type and am naturally distracted; however, I realized that this could be turned into a strong point in photography. When I see a favorable subject, I see the full picture; I mean wider. I combine other objects around and make a situational frame: there’s someone crossing the road and a yellow cab of New York City is passing at a same time, and one more unexpected object around – the whole in one picture. I love taking this kind of pictures and I guess this is my style.

Q: What are some stories from fashion week?

A: In my early days of this work I was interested in every single person so I took portrait cuts mostly, but now I am so used to this situation that I started recognizing my surroundings. This is the street and therefore there are abundant stories everywhere.

When there is a fashionable subject, there are eyes of ordinary people staring at the situation, and wondering “What’s making such a fuss?!” And sure photographers like me are taking pictures. There are so many different scenes that are unique which we cannot see in our ordinary lives. I wanted to capture these real scenes full of irony and uniqueness.

This was Sunday morning before the Kenzo collection. It was noisy outside, so residents started watching. Who and what are making this noise on a Sunday morning?! Here are neighbors watching the situation, a celebrity entering the show, and the photographer. Like this, there are so many stories.

Q: Can you tell us about your transition from digital to film?

A: I am the person of the digital era. I started photography with a digital camera just because it’s comfortable and common; it’s my generation. I never studied photography from professional courses or colleges so I never tried shooting with film cameras. Therefore, I still do not consider myself a professional.

One day I realized that faster shutter speed = less concentration. So I was looking for a camera with slower shutter speed, and at the end, it came from film cameras. Every single click costs money, so I should be very concentrated.

In my last fashion week, in Paris, I went to the Leica Store Paris and bought an old M3. Why an M3? Because the price was affordable. At the time I had no idea even how to put the film in. I tried to find out from YouTube, but had a low Wi-Fi signal! My friend taught me how to do it and it’s been around a year since I started film photography. I really like the outcome. These days, I use a MP camera also, because it has the same design as my old friend the M9-P. I was looking for a same concept.

People say an advantage of film cameras is color. However, in this era, it is possible to make similar colors out of post-processing programs, right? Therefore, for me, film cameras are again about the concentration and effort.

Q: What is the meaning of photography to you?

A: Every photographer has different meanings for taking pictures. For one person it’s an art, for another it’s a meaning of creation. For me, it has a big meaning of documentation. I am capturing everything that I am interested in these days. I am not yet sure what will be made after, but I do not put an importance on it. What I like at this moment and what I am into and documenting in those moments, that is important for me.

Thank you for your time, Nam!

Connect with Nam on his website and Instagram.

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