Back in the summer, Dave and I did a shoot for a story featuring B Boys in Seoul, for the budget airline magazine Scoot. We headed out to eastern Seoul to 20th Century Studios and met Knukl, Anisa, and Lucy. They were a pleasure to work with. It was my first time doing an action-portrait shoot, and I didn't have the right equipment (too short notice to rent lighting), but I think they turned out pretty well. Unfortunately Scoot decided not to run the photos.
For our last assignment in Korea Dave and I, and a group of reprobates took to an old classic - the soju tent. When I first arrived in Korea, soju tents could be found in every empty lot, dotted around subway exits, and occupying any empty sidewalk space. But over the years not only have the empty lots been filled, but the government has cracked down on these unregistered tents. You can read more about it here.
For Paste Magazine we got some recruits and rounded up five bars and five live music venues to check out in Seoul.
No photographer is a stranger to issues of venue lighting and I'm still in a rocky relationship with my speedlight. I don't like using it indoors at night as I feel it kills any kind of mood. But at a couple of places (goddam punk basements) it was an absolute necessity.
I'm also getting better at embracing higher ISOs. It's hard to get out of the mindset that 800 is as high as you want to go. At 1600, my old 450D had about as much noise as my 7D MkII has at 16000. It can soften the focus a bit when viewed at 1:1, but it's better than getting an unintentionally blurry photo.
But my biggest problem for this kind of photography, and one I'm not sure how to solve, is that I'm only 5'1". I've climbed up on things, snuck behind bars, got on stage, and pushed through crowds (which I HATE) to try and get a unique angle, but sometimes I just can't get clear of the crowd. Perhaps Dave will write a story on leg extensions one day...
Live Music Venues
I'm in the process of applying to become a Permanent Resident of Canada, but as of now my experience with (ice) hockey is limited to seeing three Stanley Cup games at pubs in New Zealand. I'm not a huge sports fan but I've always had a good time watching rugby, and even cricket (gasp!) live. So I was pretty excited for the opportunity to see a live hockey game here in Korea, for a story on the foreign players in the Asian Hockey League. In preparation for the upcoming winter Olympics, Korea is offering citizenship to a group of Canadians to play for the national team. You can read more on Dave's story here.
While it was exciting to see a game, I was incredibly nervous about trying out sports photography for the first time. I researched a whole lot to try and prepare, and just ended up even more nervous. Apparently I picked one of the hardest sports for my debut. Hockey is fast. Duh. The puck is constantly changing direction, and the ice can really screw with the white balance and metering. My first stop was SLR Rent to get a nice, fast telephoto lens. I went with the Canon EF 70~200 F2.8 IS USM and off we headed to the Anyang rink to watch High 1 vs Anyang Halla. Throughout the game I managed to find some pretty good spots around the arena to shoot from. There were only two other photographers, and being the only foreign one with a press pass gave me the confidence to go anywhere I pleased until someone told me to move along. With the high-speed setting enabled, I ended up taking a shit-tonne of photos. It definitely increased my culling time, but it also helped to get some great shots.
Last year a group of us took to Seoul for Dave's travel write-up for Get Lost magazine, on some of the best places to have a good time in Hongdae. It was a pretty straightforward assignment, but it turned out to be one of my most valuable learning moments. I made one of those mistakes that you usually only make once: I didn't pack my extra battery. Since I was using flash, by the third stop my camera was already giving me the dreaded blinking light. I was mortified. BUT as luck would have it, one of our friends, Patrick, who is a fantastic photographer, happened to bring along his gear. So I conserved my battery for a couple shots at the next venues, and tried not to beat myself up and ruin the rest of my night. I have three batteries now, and I make sure they are fully charged and packed before I go anywhere. You can read the story over here.
Noryangjin Fish Market was one of the places that had been on my to-do list, but took me years to check off. We finally made it out last year for Dave's Outpost story on Seoul. I'm really glad we went when we did, because right now the old market vendors are in a bitter dispute with the owners, who have built a new market. The problem is, most of the fishmongers don't want to move there.
In the past you could order your sea creature of choice, watch while an 80-year-old grandpa fished it out of the tank and expertly sliced it up, then walk a few meters behind the tanks and sit down on the floor in a crowded, low-ceiling restaurant to enjoy your sashimi and sides that use of every part of your creature. Talk about fresh!
Now these restaurants have all been ordered to close. But most of the vendors and their seafood are still there. The new building does have restaurants, albeit on a separate floor in a department store-like building. The lots are smaller, it's sterile, and characterless. The old market is around 90 years old and a lot of the vendors have been there for generations, with no intention of moving. Read more about it here.
The number of times I've been to church, not counting funerals, I can count on one hand. I wasn't raised in a religious household, and as an adult, I continue my heathen ways unlabeled. I think I turned out okay. So last May it came as a great relief that I didn't burst into flames the moment we entered Yoido Full Gospel Church, home of the largest Christian congregation in the world. This was one of Dave's more investigative stories involving the church leader's embezzlement scandal, so I was a bit nervous pointing my camera around and drawing attention to ourselves. In the end we didn't have any issues, but it was definitely an experience I won't forget anytime soon.
The whole experience in general confused me: the speaking in tongues, the healing of cancers, the complete denial of any wrongdoing regarding the embezzlement of church funds. You can read more about that here.
If you've had a peek at my gallery, you'll probably notice I have a bit of a thing for architectural elements, decay and bright colours. So when the inflight magazine for Scoot Airlines asked Dave to do a round up of street art in Seoul, I was more than ecstatic. I'm really grateful for the opportunities to try my hand at all kinds of subject matter that I probably never would have thought to try, but it's always comforting to be in your own element.
We headed out to five different neighbourhoods known for their street art. Hongdae, Naksan Park, and Mullae we had been to before, but the tunnel in Apgujeong and Kangfull Comic Street were new places to mark off the map. We didn't have the greatest weather, which meant we had to go back again to get some less dreary shots. They used thirteen photos in the end, which you can see in the article here. Here are the rest.
Naksan Park, Ihwa Mural Village
Apgujeong Graffiti Tunnel
While it's not something I do terribly often, drinking makgeolli out of a steel pail in a graffitied wooden shack is definitely a weekend activity I will miss a lot when we leave Korea. Dave wrote stories for both Roads & Kingdoms and Wine Enthusiast magazine about this traditional rice "wine". For Roads & Kingdoms we went to a place we fondly call, " the makgeolli shack". It's actually called Jongno House, but after a decade of going here we had to actually ask to find this out. This literal shack in Insadong, Seoul is a bit of an institution, so we always make a point to bring any newbs or tourists here to experience a taste of what Insadong was like before gentrification. More here.
The second story for Wine Enthusiast took a group of us down to Jeonju for a weekend. Jeonju is not only famous for makgeolli (and bibimbap), but also for the way it's served. You order per beaten-up kettle, which comes with basic sides. As you order more kettles, the sides get bigger and better, until you're completely stuffed and sticky from all the spilled makgeolli. . You can read more about it here.
Stores and restaurants here open and close more often than the toilet paper roll needs changing. That period between the gutting of the old and the unveiling of the new always makes me feel a little like a kid at Christmas. I dream of a gourmet cheese shop, or a store full of quality, sensible shoes at affordable prices. It never is, of course. Most often it's a cellphone shop, one of the latest food fads (looks like juice bars are the next big thing), or a chicken hof.
Chicken hofs have come a long way from when they only had three things on the menu: whole fried chicken, half fried chicken, and draft beer - hence the place to go for "chimaek" (chi for chicken, maek for maekju - beer in Korean). But those items still form the backbone of what it really means to be a chicken hof. For VICE, Dave investigated what it takes to run a successful chicken hof in such a saturated market. Thanks to our friend Adam and his in-laws, the owners of Fusion Chicken Hof CHECK, I was able to get in the kitchen for some behind-the-scenes shots. You can read the article over here at VICE.
A teacher and photographer previously based in S. Korea, being thrown into the world of photojournalism.