Five Minutes, people of South Korea road trip
Its starting, my new book project (Five Minutes) people of Korea, hopefully this wont take five years like the last one, although this will be a lot more challenging than the Malaysian version. In Korea I have no contacts at all, no one who knows the actors, musicians or politicians, not forgetting the language barrier, at the moment my Korean stretches to ordering a double macchiato, and that’s only because every time I order a bloody double espresso with steamed milk on the side, I end up with an espresso and a large cup of hot milk, and charged $3.50 for the privilege , at least I have ordering beer down to a tee ;o)
After being in Malaysia for about 9 years it was easy to get the people for Five Minutes Malaysia, I guess it does help knowing certain people, but is this a good thing? Yes, it does makes the job a lot easier, but where’s the challenge if everything is handed to you on a platter?
I guess, this is my personal opinion, maybe I have something to prove, whether to myself or everyone else, who knows, we will see.
To date I have never been able to find a so-called comfort zone with my work, always criticizing my own stuff, never completely happy with what I have shot, whether it’s a fashion spread or a portrait, there has always room for improvement, there is always that image where I think to myself, shit, I should have shot it differently, or, what the fuck, what was I thinking? Don’t get me wrong, occasionally I shoot something and think, “wow”, I would buy that photograph if I didn’t have it already ;o)
So Five Minutes people of Korea will be slightly different than Five Minutes, people of Malaysia, this time around, I will change the way I shoot, try to shoot more documentary style in some but still keep my style of using the whole surrounding rather than just the subject. I’m still shooting medium format, and luckily for me I can still buy Kodak slide over here in Korea, maybe I should just buy the whole stock as Kodak has gone bust, so I guess sponsorship from Kodak is out of the question ;o)
Printing will be different, I had too many issues with different printers in Malaysia, things they couldn’t do, or just couldn’t be bothered to do, like run the black last instead of at the beginning of a run giving the images more contrast, keeping the border thickness consistent and even using the right glue for the binding, things I didn’t think I should have to worry about.
So this time, I will see if the Koreans live up to their reputation, at least In Korea when they fuck up, they take responsibility and jump off a building. let’s hope that wont happen ;o)
It’s raining today, zero degrees outside and the forecast for tomorrow is -7 degrees, well, there’s something to look forward to as tomorrow is the first day of shooting.
Bloody hell its cold, it’s luna new year and really, shouldn’t have bothered, not today anyway, its like zombie land, there isn’t anyone around, at all, its dead, shops, bars, even the coffee shops were closed, I half expected tumble weed to roll past me, so we just drove.
First we went to Ichon, Ive heard of it, but never seen it, I can only explain this town as a Korean version of the small town featured in the old tv series “Northern exposure”, nondescript, there will be lots of towns like this during this trip, I guess this goes for every country though.
It was getting late, we either move on or just go back for the day, we decided just to go back and start again tomorrow.
The 1st shot
On the way back, we got caught in a jam, everyone heading home after the new year I guess, so we decided to wait it off at a road side stop around Gwangu. This place, pretty run down owned by a family from Jinju, the dad runs the place during the week, his family come down on weekends to help him.
Its’ cold, bloody cold, -20. I’m gonna skip to spring.
Never trust the car navigator.. 09/5/12
After running back to chungmuro to buy more film, as now I have decided to shoot 35mm as well as 120, purely because bloody kodak has made life more difficult by stopping all their slide production, crap!! 120 100G has left the planet, I am only able to buy 35mm 100G, and that’s almost double the price. Bigger crap!
Right, after farting around with film and trying to straighten a bent atm card (from folding it with my cash in my wallet) then we set off.. finally
First stop was Gang neung, well that was the Idea anyway, drive across to the east, then all the way down on to Busan. After programming the navigator, then following the annoying voice for over an hour we were still in Seoul going north, past a air force base… oh look at that Hercules plane, I haven’t seen one of those in years, checking the navigator, it’s sending us north, “why the fuck are we going north when we should be going south? Its almost 5pm, re program the stupid bimbo (navigator), now the bloody direction has changed, we are now going in one complete circle, towards the same air force base, and how do I know this? because another bloody Hercules flies over our heads.
So, we finally get out of Seoul and head towards a town called Wonju, (gave up on Gang-neung) we drive past a overturned car, rescue services were already there, a injured guy sitting on the side holding his head, another on a stretcher fully covered with a sheet, there will be some tears tonight.
The Sun was setting, needed at least one shot from this town.Drove past a huge block of apartments, thought, might be nice to have a shot there, went through the town, an old man in a uniform sitting on a chair, I want this shot.. The guy was a deliveryman in his late 50s, it was his and his wife’s shop, she cooks, he delivers, he also likes a drink, according to his wife, Slap.
On the way back, I saw this shot, in the middle of the high rise apts, a man under the street light with his bike, we went over to do the shot, unfortunately for the book, I need release forms, ask first shoot later, why, why, WHYYYYYYY. Bum bugger bollocks, such a good shot, but the guy didn’t want his shot taken, for cleansing purposes???? What was weird though, he is/was a photographer, stopped because of this cleansing thingy he is dealing with, but will take up shooting again, THEN, I can shoot him. Sorry, the moment was then, now its gone.
Next town Je-Cheon, such a run down place, that’s the perception I got, nothing much happening, except a load of tiny bright lit rooms off a couple of the main streets. Women for sale, all these women looked like mums who have seen better days, certainly not “MILFS” all declined to be shot. No shock there.
Walking to the end of one of the road, a guy in his shop, his shop looked like a run down recording studio, we went in, he is a saxophonist in a band, we asked for a shot, he reached for his hat, and sat proudly facing me, recording equipment in the background.
Bollocks, I notice one of my lenses has mould, seems like my lenses get cleaned more times than my jeans, and cost the same price each time.
Next stop, Yong-ju, a sleepy little place, probably not helped by it being almost midnight, the only thing awake were the giant neon motel signs, there’s a taxi rank, some guy sitting inside watching tv, we get out, I’m not going to bother with the 120 for this, no time to do a Polaroid, 35mm black and white and colour slide will do. I quickly take a few snaps, luckily I did, he got a call and had to leave… good job, now I’m hungry, where are we? Apart from the hourly motels nothing was open. We headed for An-dong.
Time to eat, its way past midnight, I just need a beer and something spicy to eat. We check into a motel with morals, $30 a night, with or without single beds, well there’s a first, and no sex in stereo. Referring to a previous experience of shagging going off in both rooms next to me. “yobo, yobo..YOBO!!!” right, yobo my arse. (Darling in Korean)
Down the road from the motel, we find a sort of Chinese style restaurant, just one woman working there, food was good beer was good, the only small thing that got in the way of a nice quiet dinner, was one of the customers was busy outdoing the volume of the music with his subtle sound of his guts going down the toilet.. this was before we started to eat, once we started, then he went in for a refresher
Fucking pig, ill mannered bastard, go home, from both of us.. think his friend heard, as soon as he returned from barfing his guts up, his friend dragged him out.
After dinner and a couple of pints, I went to pay the bill, the woman was delicately peeling a banana, she placed it on a plate, curled the skin back and chopped it up. It looks like a penis with balls (skin peeled back).. now I’m wondering, has this woman always owned a restaurant? I said, cute, referring to the banana.. she smiled.
Ajuma clones 10/5/12
Totally slept in, bloody hell, 8 hours straight sleep, cant even remember the last time I managed 8 hours.
Found a small fish market, a woman was sitting inside a shop front chopping fish, that was the first shot in An-dong. What I love about the Koreans, once they know your not trying to scam them and they start to trust you, they plough you with instant coffee and unlimited food, and when you leave, if they really like you, you get gifts, woo hoo. This brings me to the clock repair guy who also sells vegetables.. ?? This man, he gave me Ha-soo-oh (older men’s best friend) basically it’s alcohol with a root in a bottle which is meant to make grey hair turn back to its original colour… I think he was trying to tell me something. It might make a nice ornament.
Walking past the bus stop, 12 ajumas (old women) sitting waiting for the bus, every single one of them had the same bloody dodgey perm, dyed black with tight curls, it really looked like 12 clones waiting for a bus, this wont be the first time I will be seeing this on this journey.
This town, famous for traditional wooden dance masks and without a mask in sight also without a decent coffee shop and no bloody young people.. where the hell were the young people? Every one here was bloody old, and with the same bloody hair, was there only one hairdresser in this town?
Determined to find a traditional mask maker, unfortunately, everyone is sending us to a heritage site..I’m not bloody interested in some pre-fab home base tourist trap that is supposed to resemble something that probably burnt down a hundred years ago. This place was useless, time to go. Somewhere in this town there has to be a traditional mask maker, in a small grubby workspace, hand calving the masks, a trade that has been passed down by his or her grandfather, maybe as because I’m a analogue photographer I still believe that there will always be someone trying to keep traditions alive.
And guess what, I was right.. :o)
This guy has been at it for 37 years and came with small dingy workshop.. I love it when I’m right.
Next stop, Gun-wi. a town that resembles a scene from Deer hunter. As soon as we turned the corner into Gun-wi, the first building, a bowling ally, an old metal structure, with loads of used bowling balls outside in the flower beds and a giant bowling pin on the roof. Inside, the furniture straight from the 70s, which any second hand furniture vampire would have a field day with, then screw the general public with their extortionate prices.
I wonder what makes people stay in towns like this, is it ignorance or is it complacency?
We arrived in Daegu around 10pm, purely because KH drove straight past this city of at least five million people, all the while I was thinking why is the city on my right, why are we driving around the city, and why the hell are we at the bloody toll leaving the city? The answer is, that stupid bloody navigator is sending us everywhere but the places we want to go. When driving KH is at one with the navigational system.
Is this the future? We don’t remember phone numbers anymore and seems like we don’t have to think when we drive either, and seeing how some people do drive, I’m sure there eyes have became redundant as well as their brains.
Checked into our second motel.. love, sex, whatever its called, but that’s within my budget, thank Christ I’m not being charged by the hour.
Both dressed for the sunny spring weather, which has now turned to a blistery blizzard, freezing our butts off and looking for a decent first meal of the day, we end up in a fish grill which only sells meat and deep fried. We have a beer, leave then find a nice traditional Korean place that ploughs us with unlimited side dishes, one of the best kimchi I have tasted, more beers and a bill of 19 dollars. Couldn’t even buy fries in the no grilled fish fish grill bar for that price.
To do in the morning list:
1. Got to uniglo and buy a jumper
2. 2 double espressos
Espresso’s done, Uniglo, sort of, well I bought a pair of trousers, no luck with the top, so I ended up buying a $100 sweat shirt that I don’t really like, think I will send it to my mum, sure she would appreciate it more than me.
My first shot was to be in a Chinese herbal area, but the shops were pretty nondescript. Walking past a local restaurant in some back street alley, noticed a guy eating, he happened to be an artist, should of guessed by his look. A very strong face, well dressed and grey spiky hair. After shooting him a little way down the road, I saw a herbal fermentation shop owned by husband and wife, the husband was busy watching Kumdo, after about 10 minutes In the shop, my face turned white, I just wanted to throw up, the smell was awful.. barfffff.
Next, Kyoung-ju, a small town with cute Korean houses. A Buddhist made his house into a private temple, shot him and his wife inside his temple, he was sweet, I saw that the sun came out, bloody hell, golden light, quick get him outside, we cut the conversation short so I could get my shot. Got it, as we left they gave us melon. Down the lane from the temple was an old tea shop, it was run by a very glamorous lady, maybe in her late 50s, a sort of an Asian Audrey Hepburn, unfortunately she didn’t want to be shot, but she did give us tea.
We headed to Ulsan, a huge city, famous for eating whales. hmmmph, anyway, had the crappiest pizza ever in some bar which I cant remember the name, but it ends with the no8.. its called a spoon pizza, there was no bass, its was more like eating the top of a lasagna.. rule no…erm I have lost count, but don’t eat western in Korea, it’s normally deep fried and bloody expensive. Ended up in a motel across the road, shot the owner, great shot. Then coming back from a bar the woman said the husband decided he wouldn’t allow his wife to be in the book as he wasn’t. fucking Neanderthal, what a waste of time. Will see, havn’t given up trying yet.
Double shot and a blueberry bagel for breakfast. Then off to the old whale meat restaurants, luckily since 1985, whale meat has been banned, so instead of the area dying a death like expected, now a whaling ship takes out tourist to watch whales, and a museum to educate, if only the Japs would do the same.
An old lady who owns the restaurant surprised me by saying, things have only got better since the banning. Her restaurant showing old pictures of the town it once used to be, a photograph of a whale being slaughtered, even the menu pictures are still the same. What I found, really freaky and also sad, an unborn whale, dead in her aquarium. Whilst cutting open a whale, they came across an unborn, luckily things have moved on.
Ulsan-dongu, a fishing village, one part motels, the other, tiny little old houses, here I came across a man who was deaf as a post, he could only hear if you shouted at the top of you voice, great face, full of stories. Then a old lady, she was very sad, she said her son is waiting for her to die, but she had two cute dogs though. Talking of dogs, across the road from the old woman there was this cute little mutt in his kennel, the kennel was on its side, the dog tide to the kennel, so I guess the kennel goes where the dog goes. The poor pooch had no water and an old bone. What was weird that the kennel was on the beach. So I went to the fish market, great, white man coming in to spend money, er, nope, I wanted a styrofoam container so I can fill it with water for the dog ;o)
At the other end of the beach was the fresh fish market, yum, time to eat. A lady came up to us, I guess she gets commission by dragging people off the street, especially when white armed with cameras. Lunch, consisting of fresh fish, whelks, chrysalis, which I politely returned and kimchi,. Very tasty, and very fresh, it was so fresh, the fish still had the hook in its mouth. Great.
We get to Busan late that night, we don’t really have time to do anything, just find a cheapish motel, and look for something to eat.
Today was the last day for this trip, I still had to camera shop for my guys at the print room and hunt down the dwindling amounts of Kodak slide. I wanted to shoot at least 10 portraits today, normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but portraits and a story behind them, its bloody hard.
Busan, wasn’t what I expected, a lot of the city was very old and very spread out, and what was worse, a lot of dog meat restaurants… we are literally in dog hell.. shit, this isn’t good for me or for dogs. On a nicer note though, walking through the park there were a lot of people walking their dogs, hopefully they are not firming up their lunches. I snapped a cute stewardess and her pouch… well, I do need some sort of personal eye candy ;o)
As we walked through the park I noticed that there was some sort of ajuma madness going on, all fitted with the biggest visors that you could imagine, exercising on the park machines, bums going one way, heads the other, one looked like a pigeon on a tread mill, Christ, then another walks past me going backwards, it was total madness.
I managed to shoot the ten, we left Busan around 9.30pm, got back to Seoul at 4am.
“SHIIIIT” I left my polaroid back in Malaysia.. double Shit!! I guess this is a good time to see how well I remember my spot meter.
Rain, a lot of it.
Errrr… I seemed to have tweeted this trip and forgot to write it on my blog. doh!
After a delay of a day we finally set off again, plan of action – go east to Chuncheon, then to all the surrounding towns, Kangneung, Samchok and Taebeak, then onto south west of South Korea, Unfortunately my camera had other plans, bloody thing started to have mood swings during the first day of shooting, must have missed me when I was in KL.
It wasn’t such a waste of a day, managed to shoot three people in Chuncheon, the first, a religious woman who really thinks the end of the world is nigh, maybe she was talking about my camera? luckily, the light was great, and my camera, Mamiya RZ67 has a manual over ride which has saved my arse on more than one occasion.. normally when I forget to buy batteries.
The second shot, a seamstress was when my camera was about to fly through a shop window, this is when I sort of decided to turn back, get my camera repaired on Monday then come back out tuesday or wednesday, so I shot the lady with my 35mm (camera)
I found a camera shop nearby, which sold second hand cameras, so I asked the owner if he could take a look at my camera, he was such a nice guy, but unfortunately he couldn’t find what was wrong, so yes, its off to Seoul again, bugger.
On the way back we passed through a town called Gangchon, near enough to Seoul but far enough for the teenagers to escape for a quickie, motel central. By this time it was night, -7 degrees and starving, we parked at the first restaurant we saw, it sold noodles, apparently this town is famous for these noodles. The one thing I have learn’t during my travels is if anyone ever says to you that a certain place is famous for something, don’t believe them, if its food, it normally bland or tastes like crap and you have just spent an hour queuing up for the experience, but there was no queue here, there wasn’t even a person, it was dead and it was freezing, it was so cold that we had to eat with our coats, scarves and gloves, another bad sign… but we was hungry so we sat and we ordered the famous Makgooksoo (noodles) and guess what? the bloody noodles are cold noodles.
I think that just about summed up the day.
Previously, courtesy of Malaysian humidity, I had a lens with more mould than Stilton, every shop I went to In Malaysia and Singapore said it was impossible to clean, and offered me a new one at double the price.
So I bought it to Seoul, most shops wouldn’t touch it, but one shop called a guy, who made the effort to come to the shop within 10 minutes, he explained what the problem was, told me that the mould was not in the glass like everyone said, but the glass is actually two pieces pressed together and this is where the mould grew, that cost me only $80, much better than the $1000 I was offered for a new one. Hence “genius” so, I called on him again for my Mamiya’s (camera) mood swing, he looked, twiddled and said, its the shutter release button, again, he explained that the release has 6 layers, he even took it apart then and showed me the broken bit. “Come tomorrow noon and it will be ready” he said, it was ready 3 hours later and cost $50.
When I first went to his work space which is the top floor of some building with no elevator, only 5 floors, but in full winter woolies and camera bags, it becomes a good work out for anyone, it was like a little club all these old guys, photographers, engineers and anyone who, if you needed something, these guys would know someone who would have that something. I could imagine, when I live in Seoul and about 60, I’d probably be up here as well, complaining about the music and drinking their awful instant coffee.. but really a good bunch of guys.
Talk about déjà vu, leaving Seoul once again and headed east towards Hongcheon, it was quite late by the time we got there, and already dark. As I was walking through a small market, I saw two Ajumma, sitting under a blanket (politically correct term for ajumma means married women. Incorrect, means an older woman who thinks she has the “right of way” to and of everything)
To my surprise the women were very willing to be photographed, one sells the Korean side dishes, the other pork intestines, during the interview kept hearing the word sexy, every bloody sentence had the word sexy, I thought to myself, God, these ajummas must be in need of a good something or other, but as I was later corrected, they were not saying sexy, they were saying ?? (sek-shi) which means bride. Better to know now rather than later i guess.
Day off, we are going skiing.. a mountainous town called Gohaneup and its snowing, we check into a hotel which is actually more like apartments, $200 and they have the nerve to ask us to wash the dishes and make the bed before we leave. how screwed up is that?
Well, what can I say, I haven’t been skiing since my uni days, so I thought most of my time would be on my arse, but no, not once did I make a complete tit out of myself, although, just when I thought I was doing well, speeding down the slopes, a group of kids, no more than my waist height flew right past, how the hell? I was going straight, knees bent and all the things I was supposed to do, but these little buggers sped right past, it was that moment in life when you wish you could have just put your foot out and smile to yourself.
Fuck my book, I was enjoying myself, for once I was doing something which has nothing, what so ever to do with friends, family or work, its all about me and not smashing into someone at 30mph. Only one drawback, there was no bloody bar.
Taebaek, just another small town along the way, but with a lot of rejections. I found that Korean women in their 30s really don’t want to be photographed, its so weird, personally, if I was a woman and in my 30s I would jump at the chance to be photographed, cos once I reach 40 plus, its all down hill from there, and before I get inundated with complaints from some feminist group, it also goes for us men, your boobs drop, so do our balls, its called gravity, accept it.
On to Cheongju, a town we were so please to arrive at purely because it actually looked like a town and our motel’s vending machine sold dildos and vibrators in place of Marlboro and snickers, interesting.
One shot I really wanted was rejected, a Yakult lady, for those who dont know, in Korea there are women in brown uniform who walk around the streets with a kart selling Yakult, its a kind of institution, although they are everywhere, this one in particular had the right light on her with no crap in the back ground.. why didn’t I shoot her anyway? Simple, she would need to sign a release form. Bollocks
I woke up feeling like shit, maybe it was too much sleep, maybe exhausted from skiing, I don,t know, or was it a reality check? I had a day off, now welcome back to earth and get on with it.
Two double espressos couldn’t even snap me out of it, but the girl who owned the coffee shop agreed to have her photo taken, and it was her birthday, she was happy, it cheered me up a bit.
Also, the realization that I have been shooting this project for over a year and we have yet to put any stories to the images, everything still seems a long way off.
We shot six in Cheongju, and I bought some tin pots from a kitchen shop.. woo hoo!
Normally, before we arrive at a town or city we have to search on the car navigation for motels in the area, tonight was different, it was more like Daejeon, the city we just arrived at was invaded by motel logos, there was no town, just logo’s, of course all the motels were situated around the bus terminal and sex shops.. hmmm.
We chose Dunsan, the business district, but also the “Gangnam” of Daejeon, a new area, but full of bars and clubs and a shit load of young people. I photographed two this evening, the first, a girl who looked 18, but 33, cow, an ex make-up artist who gave up her job cos, basically she didn’t like to travel, the next, a girl and guy puffing away on their ciggies in a no smoking zone looked quite interesting, and even more when we found out that the guy likes her but she was not interested in him and more interested in my opinion whether she should have a nose job or not, I said no, then squeezed her nose to make sure she didn’t already have one.
Oh, and on leaving the restaurant a girl on the next table said I look like Jeremy Irons… that makes her the 154th, sigh.
I really hate those head aches which hang around in one eye, and this morning I woke up with one, bloody Hite beer.
This calls for Starbucks and a pharmacy, any order is fine. After my usual caffeine fix and breakfast the shape of two pills, we walked along the river side to a market, as I walked through, I suddenly realized that I have really had enough of shooting in markets, I see the same people, in the same stalls selling the same things but in different countries, shit, am I running out of original people to photograph?
I made my escape from the market.
The first person I shot today, or should I say persons, were an ex naval officer who fought in the Korean war, and his mate, a locksmith who he was keeping company. Both sitting in his roadside stall chatting enjoying the sun and each others company, that was until we came and interrupted their day, they were both very friendly, the locksmith who was 85 bragged that he didn’t need glasses, and also said that I looked older than my age, bloody hell, I knew I was suffering, but I did shave this morning, that always knocks off a few years.. well, normally it does.
A very cool Navel officer.
I really needed to eat something, something to soak up last nights alcohol, cheese, I had a craving for cheese, a perfect hangover cure.. so we headed for the greasiest crappiest pizza house in Daejeon.. you can always rely on pizza hut for that What really baffles me is why people actually pay for the salad bar at pizza hut? nothing in the salad bar can actually be digested properly, might as well eat the cheap plastic fruit they always decorate the bar with, its probably tastes a whole lot better and take longer to come out of the other end.
Finally my hangover left and we managed to shoot 10 people in Daejeon, we then left for Gunsan, a coastal town 40 minutes west of Daejeon. We arrived at Gunsan at about 9pm.. it was dead, it looked like a zombie town, but all the zombies have starved to death cos really, no one was out. We passed through a shopping street, I guess this is the heart of the town, all the lights were on, shops were open but no one in them.. must of been the zombies, or aliens, this was more feasible that synchronised toilet usage.
Finally, I found a woman, woo hoo, she came with clothes shop and a fur collar, hated having her photo taken, but really, she loved it.
Shop owner – Gunsan
We left pretty sharpish and headed to Jeonju.
Two things I am now sick to death of during this road trip, dunkin bloody doughnuts, they are everywhere, and PSY commercials, really, I hate that bloody song, I have been hearing it since my last trip here, then Malaysia had really put the icing on the cake by coming out with about 101 other versions of the song, KL style, Sabah bloody style, some other bloody style, bloody hell, then Spain, then UK, even my Mum was asking me if I had seen this guy who does a funny dance, Christ, this guys face is on every commercial in Korea, beer, phones, food, copy paper, even bloody beauty products, really, that’s just taking the piss out of the general public.. Hello hello, the guy wears dark glasses for a reason.
I got to bed around 3am in my $40 motel room which actually became $55 the next night because of weekend rates, more drunk people means they are too blur to give a crap how much their shag costs. Woke up at 7am to some pissed guy shouting down the corridor, looking for someone, most probably his girlfriend who chose to screw his friend.
Strolled to a coffee shop for my fix, coffee was soso and the blueberry bagel I had tasted like soap, minus the bubbles, awful.
My first shot of the day I was very happy with, it was simple, a law student who was in the coffee shop doing some home work, sometimes the simplest shots turn out the nicest.
The second shot of the day, I loved, it was so snapshot with a touch of cheese. I crashed a university graduation, perfect timing.
I did try to get a graduation photographer, but unfortunately he declined the offer, and yes the polaroid is over as I had the shutter on 15th instead of 125th I changed it before I shot slide
Mum, daughter and brother at her graduation.
I thought I was on a roll when all of a sudden the heavens opened and the rain came down. After an earl grey tea at starbucks the sun came out, back out on the street, then it bloody started snowing, Jeasus Christ on a bike I thought, then temperature dropped like a brick, it was freezing, then the wind started, then it rained, so much for “on a roll” from what started to be a good day of shooting, turned out to be a bit of a disaster. We went to a very old Korean village, I thought it would be nice to shoot some people who visited the place, meet some of the public and get some stories, but no, it was too bloody cold and all the people who had half a brain were inside a warn cosy coffee bar or restaurant, so why was I one of the very few traipsing through mud in an empty Korean village? no comment.
Just before leaving I found a cute little book shop and very well organized, but the books were not ordinary books, they were manga books, not comics. The other weird thing about this book shop is that books were for rent and not for sale. So we chatted to girl in the store who was more interested in talking about her husband.
Really, I should change this book to two hours, not five minutes, women really love to talk, non-stop bla bla bla, unfortunately I can’t understand Korean enough to realize when book conversation transforms to relationships of where they go shopping for cat food, Geez
Another night in the same motel which cost $25 more than the night before, go figure, we headed straight out for espressos and check the map for the next town to head to. I’m behind in my shooting, yesterday I only managed to shoot 6, so today I want to shoot 15, no chance in hell, especially when we have to drive town to town.
I shot two more in Jeonju before heading off to the next town, Imsil. I met an old couple, very old, but very sweet, and they had this amazingly cute and matted but very stinky dog who had no name.
I asked if they let him off, he said the neighbors would complain if he went out, sad, but apart from his Bob Marley dreads, he was happy and seemed to be very healthy.
The couple who were so sweet invited us in to there house and fed us apples, the lady said that I can only leave when I have finished all the apples.. Christ, are you my mother?
That was enough for this town, we just photographed a good percentage anyway.
The next town Namwon, we met up with a craftsman who specializes in Lacquered furniture and accessories. Two good things came out of this shoot, one was almost getting high as a kite from the fumes, the other was when we left he gave us two lacquered cups that he made.
I might not sound much, but when we were looking for things to buy, the cheapest things were bloody chop sticks and they cost $60, “A cup” which I liked earlier cost $150, so when we left, I think he felt sorry for us for being so poor and gave us two cups.. sooooo pleased, now we are off to Gwangju, the 6th city of South Korea.
This city was nice, it was one big giant shopping precinct, the only thing was I couldn’t find one place that sold a beer, it was literally shops after shops after shops.. I started to sweat with fear.
I did manage to shoot one tonight, a framer wearing ear muffs, the only life in art street.
Gwangju, well known for its arts scene, has a whole street of galleries with cobbles, great I thought, I can meet some artists and get few politically incorrect stories, I’m always looking for an extra spanner to put somewhere, but too late today, will try tomorrow.
Still searching for my beer, I resorted to having dinner, then at least I can have my beer. This is one of my very few complaints about Korea. If you want a drink you have to order food, and bar food is normally a deep fried attempt at some awful western food. Korean’s cannot cook western, but a bar selling “so-called” western food, as awful as it maybe, will be full of young Koreans.
The funny thing was, after spending ages looking for bars, going to the police station and getting directions to the bars, and still not finding them, all the while they just across one road, it was full of clubs and pubs and restaurants, even found a bar with no decor what so ever, but a pint of beer was $3, still I had to buy food, but their menu was a plate of peanuts or dried seaweed at $1, sure beats $15 for a plate of grease.
Its my birthday… bla bla, after sniffing all the armpits of my clothes to see which were the least smelliest, it was coffee, bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jam at starbucks, then off to shoot, first stop was gallery street and it was closed, every bloody gallery, art space was closed, it was Sunday, fuck it, but we did find a half drunk estate agent, who I’m sure was wearing a toupee.
A stroke of luck, a group of students were performing something in an underground shopping mall, shot about six portraits with my leica and my new flash which, may i add, I haven’t used before, plus I used slide, so I’m sure I will have 6 flashed out students. Watch this space!
Woo hoo, camera fine, flash fine… I love my new toy.
On my way through the town, I became a subject of another photographer.. penance!
A young kid, only 17 and out on his own shooting street fashion, his dad is a landscape photographer. Good luck to him.
“I’m not fat, I’m wearing four layers”
I decided to take a trip to the 1980 Gwangju massacre cemetery, I had never heard about this until I was looking up the history Gwangju, its a very sad event between a military ruled South Korea and the people of Gwangju.
On a lighter note, we chatted to three of the girls who work in the information office of the cemetery, it was closing and they were off home, but not before I could take a few pics of them.
Luckily I shot these girls with my leica, my Mamiya at this point was shooting blanks.. The timings were out, what ever I set the camera to, my camera would shoot at a too fast speed, giving me nothing but very underexposed pics. My cameras this trip have been a right royal pain in the arse, Shit happens.
Earlier before I went to the cemetery, a woman holding a box of strawberry’s caught my attention, it would have been quite a nice shot but she was in a hurry chasing a cab, she said she would be back and pointed to her karaoke shop.
So, I went back.
Her shop was actually her families, she is a traditional Korean dance teacher just looking after the shop.
She said Korean dance was a bit like analogue photography, dying a death, too many people into K-pop rather than traditional dance, they just go back to traditional dance when they are too old to pop.
285km later the last stop, Jinju, Kyoung Hee’s home town, and probably the sleeziest motel of the whole trip, $30 with a couple of condoms thrown on the counter with, “not for resale” stamped over them, interesting.
This was gonna be a quick trip, one day, meet the parents, take a few shots then bugger off back to Seoul.
One of today’s shots was of a nurse, she was in a coffee bar, very shy but happy to be shot, also I wasn’t sure if I could shoot her as Korea law states no photographer can photograph any of the military and police in uniform without written permission. Very different from the policeman I shot in Malaysia, busy sitting on his laurels, but quickly jumped up when he saw my camera
This trip has been long, but still along way off, I did hope that the book will be done this year, but I don’t think so, every time I shoot, I see things differently, different ideas come into my head, God, where do I stop? I want this book to be so much better than my first, already I have edited out a lot of the people that I have already shot, so I guess it will be better, I hope so anyway.
I’m back in Seoul now and a week until I fly back to Kuala Lumpur for the new batch of classes and the next student exhibition on Bukit bintangI will carry on shooting here in Seoul before I go and hope to get another 10 or so portraits, also I now have a new assistant here, a photography student, on her last year at Uni and already has assisting experience, so at least I wont have to apologize when I throw my camera bag on her back.