Collared shirts, pleated skirts, awkward haircuts, and acne, all these are present in South Korean photographer Sungjin Park’s new book, Kid Nostalgia, which focuses on schoolkids in Seoul.
Park, while studying at the Pratt Institute in 2001, traveled back to his native South Korea where he wandered the streets, befriending what he describes to TIME as “the kids who were the only ones that seemed exciting and alive in this city. There was a certain antisocial energy in their look and attitude,” he adds. “But what I wanted to do was capture their charisma—something you can’t manufacture.”
To make his photographs, Park spent time with his new friends when they cut class, skipping school to hang out with their partners.
“I had found something rather pure and naïve in their rebellion and immaturity,” he says. “The way they reveal themselves as they roam around the periphery of the school system is so raw that there’s an ironic beauty to it.”
Park’s work provides both an attractive and a painful sense of nostalgia: Here we see classmates we may once have been friends with, but they are also the cool kids, the ones who might have ignored us.
“There’s a sort of imperfect freedom and recklessness to their rebellion and sadness,” he adds, “to their style that the older generation refuses to tolerate. Whatever or whoever is in the picture is a portrait of the one who takes it. These faces were perhaps my own face.”
AnRong Xu is a contributor to LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @Anrizzy