Written by Sam Smith, Teaching Artist and Program Deputy
Way back in 2006, when I first started working at YIF, I had the pleasure of being a mentor in an Advanced Black & White elective course, called Picturing My History, in which students explored their own identities and ancestries. Prior to the start of the course, my coworkers were fiercely recruiting a young photographer, whom they spoke of legendarily, to enroll. After getting to know Jaesun and working with him in class, I quickly understood the source of the YIF staff’s tenacity.
“I first came to Youth in Focus when a friend of mine was in a class there and she invited me to her End-of-Quarter show. I immediately signed up that night. I had taken a photography class in middle school and didn’t have a place to do it once I graduated middle school. YIF gave me something to do after school and if not for that I would have been at home watching TV and falling asleep! At Youth in Focus I took as many classes as I could: Beginning B&W, Intermediate B&W, Advanced B&W and three or four Advanced Electives.”
Over the course of those many years of creativity and commitment, Jaesun compiled a very impressive portfolio of work that tells his personal story, as depicted through his interactions with, and observations of, his communities. He focused on elements of Hip Hop, comprehensively documenting several complementary aspects of the culture that he strongly identifies with. This included photographic studies of the music, dance, apparel, and visual art. His self-portraits address, with refreshingly brutal honesty, the contrast between the person society labels him as and the real Jaesun.
One challenge that Jaesun sees teens deal with is having a voice, and being able to stand up and give or receive feedback — something uniquely addressed by the role that critiques play in YIF classes. “Critique gives the people who are having their work critiqued a chance to come out of their shell, and it gives the people who are doing the critiquing a voice. And vice versa — when you present your work for critique it gives you a voice, and when you give someone feedback you have to come out of your shell.”
“As far as life skills, [my time at YIF] made me more observant in general, being better at reading people and picking up on the details in different moments. I always carry my camera with me, I notice lines, shadows, I have a photographer’s mind now. Through the Freelance Project, I got a lot of people experience, interacting with different kinds of people in different kinds of situations. Taking candid shots of people teaches you how to interact, which is a life skill too.”
As a shooter with the Freelance Project, Jaesun was commissioned by the Rainier Valley Historical Society to photograph the Hillman City neighborhood for their 50-year time capsule. His photography will serve as a record of the neighborhood in its present-day condition for a future generation. Since departing his teenage years and taking his final class at YIF, Jaesun has been very busy, and at 21 has a resume that many teaching artists (myself included!) would be jealous of. Currently, you can find him teaching Graffiti to the lucky students at Nova High School, as well as Mixed Media at the Pratt Fine Arts Center and the Seattle Art Museum. So if you or someone you know is a middle- or high-school aged youth, find out his schedule and enroll in one of his courses!
Jaesun’s top three passions continue to be making music, doing graffiti art and photography. His says his ultimate goal is to go to college for automobile construction and design, and later to design green sports cars.
As we were when he was a YIF student, we continue to be blown away by Jaesun’s artistic talents and his determination to be his unique self, speak his own voice and share what he knows. And we’re really happy his friend invited him to that End of Quarter show.