Until the 1960s, South Korea was a poor and underdeveloped — almost medieval — country. After just 50 years, however, it is now one of the most advanced countries in the world.

The rush towards modernity has been fostered by a national competitive nature and a painstaking effort to reach scholastic, aesthetic and professional perfection.

As a result of this particularly aggressive character, South Korea has the highest education rate in the world. Its students are admitted to prestigious universities across the globe. It is not by chance that President Barack Obama exhorted American students to follow the example of South Korean students; in my country (Italy), just 58% of the population between 25 and 34 have graduated.

This competitive nature also manifests in the South Korean ideal of aesthetic perfection. The country is famous for having the highest rate of plastic surgery interventions in the world. Almost every young person undergoes, at minimum, a few of basic “Western-style” eye and mouth procedures.

The standards for intellectual achievement are also punishing. From a young age, adolescents in South Korea are focused on earning high grades in the hopes that they will then obtain good jobs. As opposed to Western countries, where young people are encouraged to stand out, South Korea pushes its youngest generation towards an alienating yet secure process of standardization.

In sum, competition and rivalry have had numerous effects on the population, both goo and bad. The social, educational, economical, and technological evolutions that the country has achieved came as a result of intense pressure. This strain, while beneficial in many ways, has also caused a number of dangerous side effects. These include social isolation, alcoholism, and suicide — the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, around 43 people per day.

This project was “made in Korea” and attempts to understand a fascinating and unique culture, at once familiar and also completely unto itself.

— Filippo Venturi


Editor’s Note: Made in Korea has been turned into a beautiful ebook.

Venturi’s work will be exhibited from the 6th of September to the 31st of October in Kaunas (Lithuania) during “Kaunas Photo Festival 2016.”

Further exhibitions include the “Sony World Photography Awards” exhibition, as “Made in Korea” was awarded the 2nd prize in the Professional/People category. This will run from the 6th of September to the 22nd of October in Milan, Italy and at the “Immagimondo Festival 2016,” on the 24th of September in Lecco, Italy.