Photography of Korean cosmetic surgery and clinics

‘It Will Hurt A Little’ is a new book and exhibition with stunning photos of South Korean cosmetic surgery clinics and patients by New York-based photographer Ji Yeo.

Ji Yeo comes from Seoul, often called the world’s capital for cosmetic surgery.

In a new exhibition on display in New York, Yeo showcases photographs that document the experience of cosmetic surgery in South Korea, where 20 % of women have had some form of cosmetic work, compared to 5 %of American women, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.

South Korea has more than 2,000 cosmetic surgeons and now attracts patients from China, Japan, Taiwan, Russia and the Middle East.

Yeo has photographed the patients and the luxurious facilities. One clinic has 300 employees, 30 doctors, 12 operating rooms, 40 post-operating rooms, 70 consulting rooms, a dermatology salon, a spa, dental care, a café and a library.

Her photos are nuanced, showing both the ugly and beautiful aspects of cosmetic surgery by revealing the whole journey, rather than just the end result.

An earlier series of photographs called “Beauty Room Recovery,” showed intimate portraits of patients in that in-between period of recovery that is rarely pictured, after the surgery but before the big reveal.

Yeo’s new exhibition focuses on the clinic buildings themselves. Given the influx of business, Korean cosmetic surgery clinics have grown into huge operations. Yeo photographs one clinic that has 21 floors in the middle of the pricey Gangnam neighbourhood.

In the larger clinics, says Yeo, “The industry resembles manufacturing. The process is swift and systematic: In many clinics, patients will never see a doctor. Patients discuss their surgery and pricing with a consultation manager. They are put to sleep before the doctor comes into the operating room, and they wake up long after he leaves. Most clinics offer relatively standardized products.”

Yeo says there are two main types of clients in Korea: They are those who go for a more natural look (which can also be very expensive), and those who prefer a more artificial look that cannot be achieved without surgery: large eyes, a large nose and a very small chin.

Most Korean clinics will give their consultation managers and receptionists surgical procedures, and these employees become an advertisement for their brand.

Yeo’s photos capture a sharp contrast between beautiful employees, the sterile operating spaces, luxurious VIP rooms, and the shock of blood and gore, often hidden away in the employee-only room.

Yeo says the employee-only room, which patients never see, reveals a lot about the clinic: “Some are extremely clean and organized. Others are extremely messy. You look in the fridge, there are needles and barbeque and ketchup and filler.”