A Fireside Chat with Donnybrook Bestie Ryan Yoon
Niles Sat Down with The GROUND Magazine’s Founder/EIC to talk Shop… and Jerry Maguire…?
Over the past five months I’ve been interning at The GROUND, a relatively new art, fashion, music and charity magazine based in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea. When I began my work there, the magazine was hot at work preparing its second issue while I worked to generate content for the magazine’s website. Before my internship was formally finished The GROUND had introduced new social features to its website to better achieve its own, and its viewers’ and collaborators’, visions.
Recently I was able to sit down with The GROUND founder and editor-in-chief Ryan Yoon, who told me all about his unique and multi-faceted educational and professional background, and how his experiences led him to spearheading a fresh and new experiment in the print, web and creative industries. Yoon is soft-spoken and always with a smile, and any discussion about his magazine inevitably turns to expressing a genuine desire to help gain exposure for innovative and new artists.
Telling a story is a true calling for me, no matter what the media is. – Ryan Yoon
NJB: What is your educational background?
RY: I studied computer science in Korea. From 1999 to 2001 I was working on web design; I started my own web design company but it was kind of becoming boring to me.
I watched the movie Jerry Maguire in Korea; that was kind of a tipping point for me, and I was inspired to go into sports marketing. I thought: “What am I doing here? I need to go somewhere!” so I just had to come to the United States.
That was 2001. I was about to come here in September 2001, but then the 9/11 attacks happened, so I postponed for a year. I eventually went to Utah to study language and general subjects, and then I went to South Carolina to study sports marketing. At the last minute, I watched some fashion TV and thought “Oh my God, that looks good!” I had a moment, and instead of sports marketing, I switched again to study fashion marketing.
So you kept changing what it was that you wanted to do.
Yeah, sometimes you can make decisions from one big incident. After studying computer science, and after I came here and studied fashion marketing, I then studied photography. Back then I was doing more documentary than fine art. But after graduating college I was more focused on solely fashion photography.
As a fashion photographer I experienced frustration in the fact that it is extremely hard to break into the industry, which involves publications, having a relationship with designers, having a relationship with editors. I saw the same frustrations in artists and writers and everybody. At the beginning stage of my photography career, whenever I had a fashion story, I sent it to every possible publication to publish the work, with little luck.
I experienced those frustrations and imagine, assume, how many people out there—whether photographers, writers, individual artists—are just as frustrated as I was? For people who already have connections, who already have the path before them, it’s really easy. But for those who don’t have those connections, its extreme frustration. I experienced that kind of psychology, which little by little gave me the inspiration to create some kind of platform to connect artists together and allow them to share their work.
The GROUND, according to the statement in the beginning of the magazine’s first issue, seems big on cross-pollination, for contributors working outside of their own fields. For example, a fashion model writing an editorial, or a photographer writing interviews—a perspective outside of what you would expect. Could you talk about this?
Most people—like me, as I explained earlier—don’t know what they’re really good at, or what it is they really want to do, or how those two things match up. If you find that early on, you’re such a lucky person! When you do something for your career, you will likely end up settling down. You might try other things, but because life is short you probably won’t be able to devote enough time to trying everything.
Another thing I want to achieve is to break a stereotype. “Models are pretty, but dumb.” No! They are capable of doing other things as well. We’re trying to break that stereotype we have in our heads, and at the same time I want to give the opportunity to people to find what they like to do, what they can do well, and that balance in between those things.
The magazine also states that it is committed to charity. Could you describe what its goal is involving charities?
I’m not trying to raise money for charities through the magazine or its website; I’m trying to change the way people approach charities. If people see an ad for a charity and think “This is a really ugly design, an ugly picture,” they will not pay attention to it, if an art or fashion magazine would want to publish it at all. But what if industry-leading media, like Vogue, thinks putting a charity ad on the front page, as we do, is a cool thing? Everyone else is going to do it.
So that’s how we approach charity: to make people more familiar with, and to better like, charity. But it has to look good—and that’s why I brought charity into this project.
The GROUND’s website seems to cater specifically to the issue you mentioned previously, of artists sharing their work for exposure and making connections. Can you talk about how the website helps to achieve The GROUND’s vision?
On the website, any artist or gallery may post and share artwork, which has the chance of showing up on our front page. Anyone can submit content that acts like a portfolio which—we hope—will gain them exposure and help them make connections. We don’t know how the website is going to grow. I keep checking how people react to what we’re putting online, and am trying to find the best platform to help people.
The easiest way to explain the relationship between The GROUND and the contributor is: we grow together. We find the right fit for our vision; we don’t want to find people based solely on quality of work and then try to fit their work into ours. Quality control we can work on together; the voice must be your own individual voice. We want to combine together the best qualities of our individual voices into one coherent one.
You mentioned many differing career interests of yours. Are there any secret hobbies or interests you have?
I was riding a motorcycle for a while; I had a license for motorcycle racing and competition in Korea. So I have a lot of hobbies. A magazine, photography, online business, the military and motorcycling—these things I actually did, but there are a lot of things I really wanted to do and never tried.
I really want to draw architecture-related things. Also, I really want to do small movie directing. I think most photographers start with still images and move onto moving images. For me, photography always has a story behind it. Telling a story is a true calling for me, no matter what the media is.