There is an intersection in Seoul where the light hits between 5 and 6pm, illuminating the people waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. For his series Insomnia, Korean-German photographer Florian Grosse frames the details of a spontaneous human performance that inhabits the urban stage for a handful of seconds.
“For only one hour a day the natural light turns this common place into a theater stage, with illuminated characters standing in front of the darkness”. With these words Florian Grosse describes the phenomenon that he portrays in his series, Insomnia. “Sometimes I am tired but cannot sleep, and after hours of insomnia I start feeling disconnected from everything”, says Florian. The aesthetics of the series recall this sensation, the dark background and the dramatic lighting giving the impression that the subjects are isolated from their surroundings. Intersections are non-places. Their only function being the wait and the transit; they are almost atemporal. But, for Florian, this specific spot in Seoul is the stage for a spontaneous performance. The precise configuration of the setting shines a spotlight on the choreography of an insignificant moment of waiting.
Although set in public space, with subjects brutally exposed by light, these shots manage to capture intimate movements. Florian’s objective gets closer, it seeks a proximity that is antithetical to this public situation. He captures the unconscious gestures of the passers-by. Even the insignificant act of holding something is a fundamental form of non-verbal communication for the photographer. He often cuts the subjects’ heads out of the frame, or shoots them from behind, for the viewer to focus on the detail of the gesture.
“When we see a picture of somebody, we look for the face first. If you make the face invisible, we must look closer”
This effort is inscribed in the photographer’s attempt to find a crossing point between the internal and external reality of things. The 10-year-old vocation began with Florian’s first trip to his home country, Korea, which he left at a very young age. The disorientation of feeling estranged from his own motherland pushed him to search for relief in photography. He was a fashion photographer at the time, and—shaped by his profession—he started to shoot automatically, his finger pressing the shutter as an instinctive response. His personal projects are a “way to handle all the impressions permanently collapsing on me”, the photographer tells us.
Images from “Insomnia” © Florian Grosse