CNN Photos

The colorful characters of K-pop

Francoise Huguier has taken photographs in the underbrush of an Asian jungle, the ramshackle houses of African villages and the high-fashion hubs of cosmopolitan Europe.

But when it came to one of her most intriguing subjects, she went to the mall.

The subjects were fans of K-pop, the bubbly, high-energy Korean pop music. (Psy, of “Gangnam Style” fame, is probably its most famous musician.) In 2012, Huguier was shooting in Malaysia when she met some young students in the Chinese-Malaysian community who shared an affinity for the music – as well as an outrageous fashion sense.

A year later, when she returned, she decided to immortalize them.

A Facebook posting brought out about 30 fans eager to pose. What place could be more logical to stage the photos than a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall?

“For the photo shoot, we needed to find a source that matched the color of their clothes,” she said in an e-mail interview, which has been translated from French. “I found two (locations) in a shopping mall that matched (the clothes), so we did a photo shoot for three days.”

The resulting pictures capture the dynamism and eccentricities of K-pop fans, who show off their joyous fashion sense with ’80s pastels, fingerless mesh gloves, bold T-shirts and deliberately absurd wigs.

All that casual showing off takes time to create, Huguier said.

“For the photo shoot it took some K-pop people three hours to put on their makeup and paint their nails,” she said. “I realized this was a true hobby for them, because every weekend they were dressing in K-pop and going to the mall. Sometimes there were even organized contests.”

The photos, in their own way, also highlight a divide among Malaysian communities. Three cultures dominate the country: Malay, Chinese and Indian. The K-pop fans were part of the Chinese community and “are more open to other cultures,” Huguier said. On the other hand, members of the Malay community are Muslim and dress much more modestly, she said.

Huguier has been a photographer for more than 30 years. Though she’s done her share of fashion shoots, she loves to immerse herself in documentary-style projects.

And she doesn’t do it halfway.

“When I want to do a story in photos, I begin a long preparation of reading books, meeting writers, teachers (and) professors, anthropologists who have written on the subject. It’s only after that do I do the story,” she said.

And whether it’s statuesque models, communal apartment-dwellers or perky K-pop fans, she hopes she’s offering something enlightening to her viewers.

“I hope to expose them to worlds they do not know,” she said.

- Todd Leopold, CNN