Into a Rala-world


Photo: courtesy of D Project Space

Come on in, relax, have a drink; you and me, let’s talk art. The walkway begins at a mahogany-red European-style salon featuring an introduction to the 200-piece collection displayed in Rala Choi: Rala Salon at D Project Space, Hannam, Seoul. Held October 21 to March 4, Rala Salon presents in vivid hues the artistry of Korean photographer Rala Choi.

Along with its characteristic central bar and café, D Project Space transformed into a rala-world where visitors inside the “warm and romantic atmosphere forget a sense of reality as if time has momentarily stopped.” The reddish walls are the backdrop to Rala’s new series of “people’s backs, personal stories, memories, and his conversation with nature experienced in many cities” (D Project Space Press Release).



Photo: courtesy of D Project Space

“I use a Nikon Fm2 and Pantex 6×7. Please stop asking me what camera I use… 🙁 ”

Upon entering, viewers notice the space has been divided into two sections: the welcoming atrium and main exhibition hall. Lined with some of Rala’s familiar artworks—collaborations with famous actresses, musicians, and models—the walls of the atrium gently ease guests into the second more abstract compilation of Rala Choi photography.

This way, no one has to struggle to understand the artist’s intentions. Visitors walk along the corridor and find with each saturated image that Rala only wants to give a glimpse of what he saw of the world. His subjects will never face the viewers because the lining of their backs tell the story better; in ways that faces and eyes cannot talk about relationships and conflicting emotions.

Owing to the fact that his images are developed on film, there is a rawness in each frame even when the subjects are clothed. During the early 2000s, prominent photo and imaging companies like Kodak and Fujifilm stopped all analog camera and film sales with the transition into digital photography and the era of filtered images. In just the past two to three years, however, many professional photographers, mainly in their 20s and 30s, have begun to opt for outdated analog devices and no-edit functions (TIME).

Some have said it’s the physical immediacy and the thrill of knowing “this is the only one; the only moment” that draws photographers back to the old. Knowing that the now is all that matters, the artist, medium, and subject are in tight interaction, thus, the beauty.


뒤돌아 앉은 여자 ⓒ 최랄라

Perhaps it hinders and restrains the artist’s photo-editing potential, but often, there is more freedom in realizing that an analog photo came out just the way it was supposed to. There’s no turning back. That moment his finger presses the shutter button, another intimate story is told that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

But Rala doesn’t really care about formalities or the extravagance of technical artistry and interpretation. He likes to take photos. He wants people to see them. What they take away from the frames is now their possession and the artist has done his job. Both sides share the art, but no one has claim over the interpretation. His photos seem to call that being alone together—also the title of one of Rala’s series of pictures of women faced away in lonely expanses, sometimes on the sea, a field, a forest. Still always alone.


Alone together ⓒ 최랄라

As exhibition-goers roam around, they order wine from the bar at the center of the hall, taking a sip, whispering their observations. It feels safe to be honest about the photos and pick which one they like. Wine and art, deep-red walls and vintage sofas near glowing lanterns. Rala Choi: Rala Salon.

“What kind of solo exhibition goes on for 6 months?”

It began in the barracks of his mandatory military service. One snap after another; the self-taught photographer is now one of the most sought-out photographers amongst Korea’s young and trendy. His collaborations include photoshoots with Hallyu star Song Hye-kyo for the cover pages of magazines such as Vogue Korea and W Magazine, and his photography has also decorated the album covers of musicians/singers like Zion T., ZICO, and Taeyeon for their immensely popular hit titles.

At first, Rala Choi: Rala Salon had been scheduled to run for the typical 3 months. And then the visitors came in crowds. Eventually, D Project Space announced to extend the exhibition for another 3-month session with visitors coming in numbers similar to the opening months; the reception just as hot.

He is praised for his keen eye for minimalism and unique extraction of colors, mixing in faded shades with bright striking colors to confuse and at the same time, comfort those yet unfamiliar with photographic art. At 31 years, Rala Choi has found a way to communicate with those of his generation, winning their love for both is personal and commercial work.


Photo: courtesy of D Project Space

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