Given the hazy air of romance that hangs over their images, it feels strangely appropriate that the backstory to photographer Dae Woong Han and graphic designer Bora Lee’s relationship has a moment of perfect serendipity: having met many years back at a cabaret party in Euljiro, a rising creative neighborhood of northern Seoul, their current studio just happens to look out over the very club where they first locked eyes. Yet even after becoming partners in life, it wasn’t until 2018 that they became partners in work, too. While playing with a friend’s cat, Lee noticed its resemblance to the cutesy, soft-focus ’90s images she’d recently become obsessed with on Tumblr, and enlisted the help of Han’s lens to recreate them with a 21st-century spin.
The project might have begun with their friends’ pets, but Glamour Shot soon expanded to reflect their interest in reimagining the traditional family portrait more broadly. Initially inspired by their fondness for the delightfully cheesy aesthetic of retro American mall kiosk family portraits—think hyper-airbrushed backgrounds and a liberal use of Photoshop—their work together was soon reframed around the evolving definition of family in today’s Korea. “The word family seems to be used more generously now than its traditional meaning,” says Lee. “If having the same blood or being married and living together was the standard, I think there are quite a few people who now agree that just living together is enough to warrant the use of the word.”
It plays into a number of cultural changes currently being driven forward by millennial Koreans, who have begun to reconsider the more conservative traditions surrounding family and relationships. “I think the development of the Internet and mixing with the different cultures around the world plays a big part in that,” Han adds. With an increasing number of young Koreans choosing to delay marriage and children to focus on their careers, or simply to enjoy their twenties outside of the responsibilities those life markers enforce, more and more young people are choosing to live alone or with roommates—or with just a pet for company, itself apparently a relatively novel concept.
Glamour Shot swiftly developed into a means for Han and Lee to provide mementos for these non-traditional families, in particular to their friends in the LGBTQ+ community; despite growing visibility, same-sex couples are still denied discrimination protection or any form of legal partnership in Korea. “There’s definitely been a rising support of feminism and queer rights, which depart from the traditional Korean family image,” says Lee. “There are a lot of people who don’t have enough education about what is truly important, and the unquestioned importance of the traditional family image is part of that. But as time goes on, we start to question these things, and it’s clear that it’s not wrong to be different.”