South Korea: A Y2K favorite, photo booths are gaining popularity among the youth

This Y2K pastime is gaining popularity among South Korean youth

Written by Jake Kwan, CNNSeoul, South Korea

Contributors Jeong Jiwon, CNN

A group of girls are smiling wearing a pair of pink glasses, silk pig hats and bunny ears. At another counter in the studio, a man carefully straightens his hair. Together, they enter a photo booth, pose, and then marvel at the photo strips the machine drops. They tape one to a wall filled with pictures of other young patrons.

It’s a familiar scene playing out in the hundreds of small photography studios that have recently opened in Seoul. The outlets — unstaffed — typically have three to six booths and are open 24 hours.

Since the pandemic, the studios have become a popular destination among South Korean Gen Z. Along the main thoroughfare of Hongdae, the city’s busiest district, they can be found on every block — sometimes, just a few feet away.

A photography studio in the Itaewon area of ​​Seoul. debt: Charlie Miller/CNN

Choi Hui-jae, a 20-year-old university student, told CNN that she visits a studio with friends every once in a while, which is five to seven times a month. Once, he recalled in a telephone interview, he went five times in one week.

„It’s a necessary stop. We go to food, karaoke, a cafe and a photo studio,” said Choi.

Jenny Dal’Alba, 19, a student in the southern city of Busan, has visited more than 70 times in the past few years.

„It’s not a fad, but a must-go every once in a while,” he said.

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Many people around the world may have their own memories of jumping into similar booths. In the early 2000s, they gained popularity due to the development of digital technology and indigenous sticker versions.

But two decades later, in the post-pandemic era of social media, they have taken on a new life in South Korea.

The studios differ from each other by themes, which is reflected in the storefront, interior and the appearance of the printed strips. debt: Charlie Miller/CNN

With more than 245 locations in the Seoul metropolitan area and more than 200 nationwide, Life4Cuts has a significant market share: the brand estimates that 2 million people visit their studios each month.

There are more than 1.1 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag Life4Cuts (in Korean) – with everyone from K-pop stars to influencers posting the results of their shoots.

Some people copy poses from viral TikTok videos or mimic popular moves of anime characters. Choye liked the obvious memes of the Pink Beaver character Janmong Lupi from the 2003 South Korean animation Pororo the Little Penguin.

A group to take pictures in one of the many booths – a little more spacious than was popular in the early 2000s. debt: Charlie Miller/CNN

Dal’Alba, who keeps all her photos together in a bag, says she enjoys getting creative by choosing different props and frames. He likes to have his friends pose with K-pop group members shot in every frame, and he likes to go multiple times to make sure he gets a photo with each star.

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There are even Instagram accounts dedicated to teaching viewers a pose to try next time in the studio.

Nowadays booths have better lighting and features like timelapse have contributed to their popularity.

K-pop stars and cartoon characters are regular features in the frames. Often, booths offer QR codes so visitors can also download digital versions of their images. debt: Charlie Miller/CNN

Business owners see studios as a safe investment opportunity.

Kim Joo-hyun opened his Busan-based studio Life4Cuts in 2020 when his restaurant began to struggle during the pandemic. He was able to set up a store within a month with a relatively modest investment of 180 million won ($134,000), requiring no government approval to operate.

„There’s a widespread perception that you won’t lose money opening them,” Kim said by phone, adding that it doesn’t require much manual labor and that he’s seen a 50% profit margin. As Kim worries about the growing competition, he is actively looking for another location to open a studio.

Each shop offers customers props such as exaggerated silk hats and hair straighteners. debt: Charlie Miller/CNN

Kim was initially skeptical that the studios would be a passing habit, but she changed her mind when people started bringing their families, elderly relatives and even dogs into the booth.

„(Customers) can buy small but guaranteed happiness,” he said, for small change of about 4,000 won, or $3 a pop. „Everyday life can be tough, but they can walk in and walk out with a smile on their face.”

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The tangible aspect of photos may be particularly appealing to Gen Z. But Choi says there’s something deeper — the pandemic has reminded him and others how precious life is.

„We know very well that our youth does not last. It is the precious moments to remember.”

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