I've known The Quiet Leaf, a Seoul-based magazine that started in 2014, for a while before I finally got in touch with the editor-in-chief, Jin Yob Kim (he later told me that the magazine title is actually based on the characters in his Korean name). I was pretty surprised that he answered my email in perfect German. It turned out that he was born in Bonn and grew up in a small town nearby, not too far from our office in Germany. We stayed in touch and recently I had the chance to visit him and his wife Sumin, who does the art direction for The Quiet Leaf, in Seoul. Naturally, we had a little nerd talk about the mag (they’re working on issue seven right now) and about how Jin got into the print world, before we skated one of the best plaza spots I’ve ever been to. But that’s another story.
As a kid I watched “Gleaming the Cube” with Christian Slater as a skater. In the movie his stepbrother is an Asian guy who gets killed and Slater's character sets out to seek justice with his skateboard. That movie got me hooked. Soon after that I got my first board, left-over trucks from older guys in our town who skated. And then skateboard mags got me interested more and more, later got me into writing and photography.
Mostly Transworlds, and a couple of Thrashers in between. Also Monster was really big in Germany, and I had a bunch of Sidewalks, which I found during a school trip to London. But Transworld was the biggest influence at that time. Their videos were so good too. Sixth Sense was one of my first ones. Remember when the new Transworld video was something everybody was waiting for?
Yeah, around the same time I had a plastic point and shoot that kept me interested enough to do an internship at a photo studio during high school. It was a very classic place, focused on black and white portraits. There I learned how to compose, focus and develop. And after that I bought my first used SLR, a Minolta X-300.
Unfortunately, I didn't. I had great ambitions, but it never lead to anything. I remember, there was a national photography competition for young shutter bugs. I submitted some photos but they didn't make the cut and I lost heart. I was disappointed and didn't do anything photo-related for a long time. I picked up my camera again when I saw something on a Korean community website that said they were looking for Korean-German photographers. Again, I sent in some photos and that landed me a first group show in Berlin.
Yeah, I studied “Asian Studies” in Bonn and my professor at that time was into literature translation. There's this place called the Korea Literature Translation Institute in Seoul and he suggested I should apply for a scholarship. I did and I actually got it. I was really stoked to come back here because I only had visited Korea for vacation. That gig lasted for a year during which I made a lot of friends. I could've stayed then, but I really wanted to get a masters degree. For that I went to SOAS in London where I stayed for a year and a half. And right after that I decided to finally move here. Seoul is a really charming city. It's funny how a place sort of tells you to settle down.
"I think it’s important to be in close contact with other skaters. Especially younger ones I try to connect with and talk about tricks and style, future and stuff."
No, it was a joint venture. I guess you could say that I developed the first vague idea a long time ago. My first jobs here in Seoul, including two magazines, made me pick up that idea again and again until, one fine day, I met Sumin. As a designer she added real substance to it, created a logo and helped me realize the project. Today, we run it together and we'll soon be looking for more people to roll with us.
Thank you! Yeah, we put a lot of thought in it. The paper we use for the cover is Japanese and it’s quite rough and heavy. That's what I like about it. Our printer actually told us not to use it, because it's so sensitive and every contact leaves a dent or a mark. That’s exactly what I wanted. Every reader has different patterns of usage. That way it’s going to be everybody’s own individual copy.
The initial idea was to focus on one country, one skate scene (or part of a scene at least) and talk about it with a hint of travel journey character. The last bit got a little lost, I think. A goal we set from the beginning was for us to visit each place and meet some locals, experience the scene for ourselves. So the worst case scenario was to get a fun trip out of it. Another rule I always have in mind is to talk about the skaters as people. You know how skaters are often recognized for their tricks or style, and of course I register that too, but I’m just as interested in a person's story. And visually speaking, it is important for us to separate writing and photos. I think they're equally important. And I like white space. We want the reader to be able to open the mag on any given page and the eyes automatically know where to go.
Basically, we structure the mag so that there are smaller articles in the front and the back, while the main articles go in the middle. I always call it a hamburger, put the meat between the greens, the sauce and the buns. I want the whole mag to be a down-tempo experience. I like to take my time with the writing and I hope our readers take their time with the reading of each piece. If I finish editing my last sentence and an article is thirty pages long, that's how it is. All I can do is hope that our readers put down their phones and lean back.
No, in some cases it's my selection, but we actually make it a point to introduce local photographers. In the main article I try to shoot everything myself but we have lots of contributing photographers. One article, for instance, is called Visible Cities, borrowed from Italo Calvino's 1972 novel “Invisible Cities”, where we find local photographers and ask them to show us their city with only photos, no words.
I really like to find some sort of visually attractive composition, such as using lines or structures, frames or reflexions. The fun part is to use whatever is around. A tree often helps, sometimes a puddle or a broken window. And then, some photos are just super fun because the subject is fun, but that's not always the case. In the mag I try to combine photos and words to tell a story. I’m interested in what happens between the tricks and the spots and I would like to convey everything I see and think to the reader.
The first one was tricky, because we didn't have any budget and we obviousIy didn't have any back issues to show around. Luckily, a number of brands helped us out, and we are really thankful for everyone who supports us from other places too. Now it's a little easier (still not easy) and we get enough ads that make every next issue happen.
We try to, yes. Recently, we hosted a photo show at our office space in collaboration with Hong Kong-based brand Victoria, featuring photos by Lui Araki, Dustin Adams, Soojin Park and myself. Lots of people came by and we had a fun day greeting old and new faces, catching up and planning exciting projects. Also, we participate in things like House of Vans and try to work with different brands to make events and create meeting points for skaters, brands and regular people. And on a more selfish note, I try to skate as much as I can.
You know, hierarchy in Korea is still a thing and big brothers at the spot can be intimidating. But every now and then, a kid comes up to me with questions and I'm more than happy to assist where I can.
It’s funny, because at the beginning we focused so much on building the first issue that when it was out we had no clue what to do with all the boxes. We decided to go on a Euro trip and go from shop to shop to introduce ourselves and leave samples. And well, a lot of the stores got back to us. A very old-fashioned way, I guess. Now we get emails from shops who are interested in the mag. Also we are currently working on a website. It will be www.thequietleaf.com and at some point we'll have a shop to order all the issues and some other stuff from.