Interview: Yoona Hong on Photography, Being True to Yourself, and Fantastical Images

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Today's interview is with the outrageously talented photographer, Yoona Hong. Her dreamy images invoke feelings of femininity, sensuality, and softness. She loves animals, plants, the outdoors, and all things cosy. Today we have a quick chat about her photographic history, how to put yourself in your work, and the creative forces that drive her to create.

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Yoona! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, will you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Yoona Hong:
Thank you for having me! I’m a 26-year-old Korean-American immigrant currently living in New Jersey. I have incurably restless feet, (I recently got back from Jordan), get emotional over succulents, almost always want to be barefoot, and put offensive amounts of butter on everything. Some of my favorite animals are rats, whales, sloths, pangolin, and dogs. But really, if it’s not a mosquito, gnat, or silverfish, I probably love it. I’m pursuing a career in international human rights, and am also a photographer, yoga instructor, and equestrian.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your photography in three words, what would they be?

Yoona Hong:
Emotive, sensual, fantastical.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into photography? Is this something you’ve been formally trained in?

Yoona Hong:
I can’t really remember 'getting into' photography, and I haven’t been trained. Even when all I had was a Polaroid camera or point-and-shoot, I was that annoying person constantly taking pictures. As I started traveling more I purchased my first DSLR and did a lot of travel photography. It was only last year that I began seriously doing portraits.


Magic & Musings:
Did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place where you could share your photographs?

Yoona Hong:
That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I did. For me, photography is an outlet and means of expression, but I don’t let it influence my sense of worth or confidence. I’ve also never put pressure on myself to make it my profession in case it lost its charm that way.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your projects, which are you the happiest with and why?

Yoona Hong:
You’re asking me to pick my favorite child? That’s so hard because I share a bit of myself with every shoot and concept. But I will say there is a different, special experience that comes with photographing my friends and family. Then my job isn’t so much to imagine and create as it is to capture and share something precious to me. With those types of shoots, I don’t care if it’s not perfect or revolutionary. I’ve said that if all I take are imperfect shots of people I love laughing, I’ll consider myself a success.


Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying or non-binary artists and their work. Which photographers, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Yoona Hong:
Oh, I have so many! A few of my favorite creative forces are Mira Nedyalkova, Anka Zhuravleva, and Elizaveta Porodina (that’s a mouthful). Mira does otherworldly underwater work that blows my mind. Anka’s ability to create a character through a single image is immense, and Elizaveta is incredible. Her imagination and execution are so unique and I’m always left shaking my head and asking “How??” In terms of how they influence me, I would say I’m inspired more by their world-building and commitment to their vision than by specific images or techniques.

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to?

Yoona Hong:
There isn’t anything I absolutely need to be productive, but I do prefer to be somewhere where I can move around and be shoeless. It’s always nice to have music that matches the mood of the images I’m editing at the time. Bonus points if there’s tea and an animal I can pet nearby.


Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Yoona Hong:
My inspiration comes from so many places that I haven’t often had to make a pointed effort to motivate myself. I often work by channeling how something like a quote, song, or place makes me feel into an image. So if I feel creatively depleted I just read some books, watch a movie, or watch the travel channel.

Magic & Musings:
What are some things you like to do in your spare time when you’re not working?

Yoona Hong:
You can find me doing yoga, gardening, riding a horse, reading, playing board games and watching movies with my friends, or petting animals. It’s also not unlikely that I’m getting on plane to another country.


Magic & Musings:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organised?

Yoona Hong:
I always have multiple things going on, and I can’t keep myself together without my planner and to-do lists. I like having physical lists and planners and the act of writing things out and checking off tasks is so satisfying.

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in a medium other than photography? Is this something you would consider in the future?

Yoona Hong:
I’m open to pretty much anything! I attended a Creative Arts Middle and High School for poetry and fiction writing. Writing was my first love when it comes to creative mediums, and I still write. I also play the piano occasionally. I possess no grace myself, but I love to watch dance.


Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out as a photographer?

Yoona Hong:
Value and be true to your work even if it disappoints others, but also be open to critique and growth. And pretty please, do not forget to backup your lightroom catalogue.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Yoona Hong:
I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire while in Jordan. I also love The Raven Cycle series, which I saw you enjoyed too! I haven’t seen any films yet this year that I loved, but my favorite movie is Mononoke Hime by Hayao Miyazaki. It is lush and poignant with the most moving visuals and soundtrack. And I may or may not have watched Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times in theater.


Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What’s on the horizon for you in the next few months?

Yoona Hong:
A lot of changes are coming my way! I’ll be pursuing my master’s degree in Human Rights at Columbia University this coming fall, and I sense an exciting evolution in terms of my style and the direction I’ll be taking my photography. If anyone is interested in seeing more of my work or contacting me, they can find me at www.yoonahong.com or on Instagram as yoonakorn. I’m always happy to talk about pet rats or traveling.

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