Interview with South Korean publishing house MUMU / Martianstory

An interview by Libreria Marini with Daegu, South Korea-based art publisher MUMU / Martinastory.
We met the South Korean team in Paris during the last edition of Polycopies, an unmissable annual event dedicated to independent photo publishing. Impressed by the extreme care and originality of the volumes, we asked a few questions to Seo MingYu, dancer-photographer and founder of Martianstory Publishing House, a publishing house with 20 years of experience that today expands by integrating new projects and young energies in collaboration with MUMU and Uhwaccompany.
We are therefore pleased to host, exclusively for Italy, a selection of books in our Rome office, and to dedicate this space to the South Korean photography and publishing scene.

Enjoy!

Libreria Marini: When did your activity as a publishing house start and why did you start making photobooks?
Seo MingYu: We started in 2022 under the name Mumu by Martinstory Publishing House, which started in 2005 by photographer and book designer Seo Mingyu, and Uhwaccompany, which has been making art books since 2007. We believe that the photobook is not just an exhibition book or a promotional material of the artist, but another language of the photographer, and we want to interpret the story of the photograph more intensely and abundantly through the photobook. We hope that through various interpretations created in this way, it will lead to an artistically rich life of an individual.

LM: Are there any themes that you feel closest to and that you deal with in your books?
SM: We do not set specific themes and choose works. However, we try to deal with the theme that feels the artist's passion for photography and the story. What we think is important is how to create a sense of tension and consensus between photographers and readers through books. We think our work is to connect photographers and readers through books and designs. Since the interpretation of the work may vary depending on what design language is made, we focus on that part and make a book.

LM: One thing we liked to notice in your publications is the quality of the materials and design, where we see something classic but with a desire to hide surprises, formats, something that makes the classic more dynamic...tell us about your idea of book design.
SM: Our design ideas are inspired by the photographer's work. We try to hide as many mysteries in the book as possible and convey to readers about the balance of discomfort and kindness. Designs are often improvised rather than thorough planning, and we believe in the feeling that comes from these improvised designs. We also spend a lot of time on the shape, materials, binding method, and print quality of the book, and enjoy the process. In the end, the results vary depending on how much we enjoyed the process of working.

LM: For some years in Europe, specifically in Italy, there has been a special focus on South Korea and its current cultural ferment. This attention is mainly directed towards cinema, think of directors Kim Ki-duk, Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook or the TV series Squid Game or Move to Heaven. We were wondering, in your opinion, why is it that the world of photography still struggles to have this international echo?
SM: It is a pleasure for Korean culture to receive special attention in Italy. There are many photographers in Korea, including professionals and amateurs. There are many galleries and a lot of space to display, but there are not many publishers in Korea that constantly plan and make photobooks. One of the reasons is that there are not many photo bookstores specializing in photography that can introduce them even if we make photobooks. In the end, this lack does not seem to produce a variety of photographers.

LM: If you were asked to describe the world of Korean photography yesterday, today and tomorrow, what names would you choose?
SM: Personally, I think Jeong Haechang (the first solo exhibition in Korea in 1929), the photographer of MUMU's first book, is the beginning of Korean art photography. Some modern Korean photographers include Hyun Ilyoung (blog.naver.com/ohyh45/220643090182) and Seo Soonsam, while contemporary photographers include Lee Jungjin (www.jungjinlee.com) and Boomoon (www.boomoon.net). Korean photography publishers include Noonbit (www.noonbit.co.kr), Ian Books (www.iannmagazine.com) and Datz Press (www.datzpress.com).

LM: Are there currently any important fairs, venues or events dedicated to photography in your country? If yes, which ones?
SM: Daegu Photo Biennale” (www.daeguphoto.com), which started in 2006, is being held every two years. There are "Art Book Fair Unlimited Edition" (www.unlimited-edition.org), which marks the 15th anniversary this year, "Publisher's Table" (www.publisherstable.kr), an independent publishing fair that started in 2013, and "Seoul International Book Fair" (sibf.or.kr).

LM: Who is he and how old is the 'Korean reader/enthusiast' who buys photo books?
SM: The people we meet at the book fair are diverse. Fortunately, it ranges from young to old, and in book fair, there are mainly more women than men. Amateur photographers, designers and publishers tend to buy a lot.

Titles available on the website and in bookstores:

"PT.7" by Seo Mingyu & Kim Hyungseok (2023)
"Jung Haechang. Landscape / Still Life" by Jung Haechang (2023)
"99 Variations / Portrait of Ouroboros" by Youngho Kang (2023)
"Baek Ju San Po / Day, Walking" by Ko Jin Sook (2022)
"Till We Have Faces" by Kong Ji-su (2022)
"Teyé My World(s)" by Teyé (2022)
"Take Over. From the Dong Bu Chang Ko, 2016-2021" by Lee Jae Bok (2021)
"Dong Bu Chang Ko" by Lee Jae Bok (2021)
"Le Box / The Doors" by Seo MingYu (2020)
"Hwa Wang San" by Seo MingYu (2019)
"Park, Myungrae: Photographs" by Park Myungrae (2019)
"Simple Ace, 2018" by Seo MingYu (2019)
"From the East End of Jeju Island. Photographs by Seo Min Gyu / 2014-2015" by Seo MingYu (2017)
"Tokyo - Narita, 2004. 2" by Seo MingYu (2013)

Litmus Story. Photography magazine designed by the publishing group::
"
Litmus Story. Issue 01" by AA. VV. (2017)
"Litmus Story. Issue 02" by AA. VV. (2018)
"Litmus Story. Issue 03" by AA. VV. (2019)
"Litmus Story. Issue 04" by AA. VV. (2022)