Powerful photos that explore male intimacy in South Korea

How photographer Lindsay Ryklief’s new series 'Boys of Seoul' helped him come to terms with his own identity.

06 August 2021, 8:00am

This article originally appeared on i-D Japan.

South African photographer and event organiser Lindsay Ryklief arrived in Seoul eight years ago, having never left his home continent before. “When I graduated from college and came here, I still didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was studying economics at college, so I lived a life far from being creative,” he says. “I needed a job, I knew I could teach English, so I thought I'd do that for the time being.”

Lindsay describes the first place he arrived in South Korea as very suburban, about two hours drive from the city. “There were no foreigners around me, and the neighbours were all elderly and could hardly speak English. I hurriedly studied Korean because I needed to,” he explained.

When he eventually moved to the centre of Seoul, Lindsay began to meet other young people and quickly observed the importance of aesthetics to the average Korean man. “In the culture I grew up in, when a man cares about his appearance, he's quickly despised as ‘feminine’ or ‘gay-ish’. I realise that no one has that prejudice here. I was inspired by that.”

a naked man covered in tattoos crouches and holds his leg

Throwing himself headfirst into the city's queer scene, in 2016, Lindsay launched Shade Seoul, a club event where people of all genders and sexualities can gather in a safe space. “I think it was quite groundbreaking because there was no place to [celebrate] queer culture in the club scene in Seoul at that time.” Shade's first party invited drag queens and Vogue dancers, and its reputation quickly spread. Next, Lindsay and his friends founded Femme Seoul, a night that spotlighted women DJs and the city's lesbian community, another major catalyst for change in the local club scene.

It was at these nights he met many of the subjects of Boys of Seoul, a photo series chronicling the men of Korea and their expression of intimacy and friendship. “Korean men hug each other and hold hands very casually when they go out for a drink. There is no sexual tension there. For them, that kinship is just brotherhood. I came to Korea and learned a lot,” Lindsay says.

In fact, it wasn't until he came to Korea that Lindsay was able to come out to his parents and tell them he was gay. The photographer had been bullied growing up because of his gender-neutral appearance. “I often had to deal with questions about sexuality and gender, but I didn't want to be noticed by the people around me, so I was always upset,” he explains. “I grew up in a Catholic family, so I ignored my feelings. When I came to live in Korea, I suddenly felt free.”

a naked man covered in tattoos from the torso downwards
three men's heads arranged on top of each other
a man holds another man on his shoulders, who looks up to the sky
a man whose top half is covered in tattoos wears a corset
a man covered in tattoos wears a baggy pair of trousers with two belts
the naked backs of two men, one leaning his head on the other's shoulder
a topless man covered in tattoos looks to the side
a man wearing underwear from the chest down, a tattoo of a gun points into his groin
a topless man hugs himself
two heavily tattooed men, one with bleached hair and piercings, lie on a bed
two naked men wearing converse jump up into the air on a rooftop

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All images courtesy Lindsay Ryklief

South Korea