Andie and Jason were on their way back to Seoul to take custody of Khi when they reached out to me. It was the beginning of summer and Seoul had just finished coming back to life. Everything was green and the weather wasn’t too hot yet. It was going to be the perfect time for some fun family photography.
Unfortunately, the other two Emmett children wouldn’t be joining this trip, but Andie and Jason wanted to take the opportunity to get some pictures with just the three of them before going home. We decided on Gyeongbokgung as it was right near their hotel and we weren’t sure how Khi would be with travel. Starting from the back gate put us well away from the big crowds and we were able to find some nooks and crannies without raucous tour groups.
Khi was an extremely loving and energetic little man to work with, and that meant we could move all about the palace and get some great variety in our shots. The palaces are gorgeous, but they’re also quite large for little people to walk around. Especially, Gyeongbokgung. Khi was up for it, however, so we covered the entire back section of the palace before taking the front gate out to get some shots under the columns as the crowds left.
Andie had seen my family photography session with the Grijalva family and loved the roofing and colours of the palace. I made sure to make good use of this, because that’s what really separates Gyeongbokgung from the other palaces of Seoul – there are some long awnings that make for beautiful photos.
Thanks again to the Emmett family for a fun day out in the palace. I had a blast capturing all those little smiles. To enquire about having your own family photography session in Seoul, please get in touch!
Here we are, back with the Ramsey family. This time, I spent almost thirteen hours with them documenting one of their first days together as a family. From the moment Gage woke up in the morning to just as he was getting ready to go down for the night, I documented the highs, the lows, and the fun times in between.
My Day-in-the-Life sessions are the longest sessions that I offer. Rather than being a lifestyle session when I take control of where we are and guide the posing of the session, these focus on capturing your day as it unfolds. Family photography in long sessions like this gives me a larger window into the life you lead and results in an honest representation of all the things that happen during your day. We had quite a day with the Ramsey family, and I’m excited to share it with you.
Gage started his day like most of us do, a little groggy and still trying to figure out his surroundings. He wandered from room to room as his parents got ready for the day, playing with anyone and everything as he did. Still suffering from his cold, and not really being a morning person (as we would soon see), Gage took things at his own pace and only nibbled at the edges of his breakfast.
When we got back to the room, it was time for medicine. Following the laughter and games with the doctor a few days prior, I was expecting that we’d see similar behaviour when taking medicine. It would seem that these two things are mutually exclusive for Gage, as he absolutely hated the medicine (both rounds)!
Moments later, though, he was back to himself and ready to head out. Alisa and Beau had decided to visit one of Seoul’s palaces with Gage for the first time, so we got a taxi outside the hotel. We had a few moments of laughter and fun, but then the medicine kicked in and Gage fell asleep in his stroller.
When he woke up, he wasn’t really in the mood for exploring the palace and wanted to stay in his stroller. So, we decided to head for lunch at this point. Although we enjoyed our pizza, Gage was much more interested in the packet of puffs that he’d seen in the bag and proceeded to eat to his heart’s content. Equally as fun, of course, was tipping the puffs off his plate onto the table. Once he was done, he discovered a new joy in pretend-slapping his father to get an over-the-top reaction.
A street festival stopped us from getting our next cab up to Seoul Tower, so we took the opportunity to walk down Daehakro together and enjoy the beautiful weather. Seoul Tower is a favourite amongst visitors, but it gets really crowded and it can be tough to make images up there. We got our obligatory lock shot and then it was time for ice-cream.
It was at this point that our up-until-now quite docile and relaxed Gage became quite involved in the world around him. He loved the ice-cream. He really loved it. So much so that he got it all over his face. He dug so deep that it fell off the cone. This was when the world came crumbling down. Gage’s attachment to that ice-cream was very real, you see. However, since it had fallen on the ground, Dad decided it would be best if Gage did not reattach it to the cone and continue eating. Let’s just say, Gage did not agree.
The tears wore him out again and young Gage took another nap. By now, it was afternoon and he was feeling a lot better. Our time back at the hotel was spent playing, running, snacking, laughing, and evening being okay with taking the medicine (well, almost) this time. Some of our favourite games during this time were locking dad in the kitchen, opening and closing the bin, and of course, sharing a lollipop. All was well with the world until we decided to brush teeth in preparation for bed.
We’ll leave it there for the story of the Ramsey family. I had a great time documenting their day and getting to know them a little better. Please get in touch if you’re interested in having your own family documentary session. It can be a lot of fun!
Of all the work I do, custody photography sessions with families are still the ones that give me the most trepidation beforehand. There is so much to capture, so many emotions, and so little that can be predicted or prepared for. Nothing is as difficult to photograph or as easy to immerse myself in than one of these sessions. Working with the Ramseys for their custody day was a really rewarding experience.
Poor Gage had a bad cold and his little nose would not stop running for the whole day, but that wasn’t going to stop us from having a great time. Alisa and Beau worked hard to make sure Gage was happy and ready for his transition. This little guy was just fearless. He explored everything and played with everyone. He even loved his doctor’s visit and chomped down on the tongue depressor as she put it into his mouth, refusing to release it! He insisted on carrying his own medicine after the prescription was filled and riding in the plastic car until everyone had worked up a sweat. He showed so much love for his family and his foster family the whole time we were there, constantly jumping back and forth to play with everyone.
On the way home, a short few tears were followed by a deep sleep that got us the rest of the way to the hotel. There we explored our new surroundings and played with drums and trumpets as the family got to know each other in their new surroundings. Watching Gage’s parents work so hard to make his transition as easy as possible was special to be a part of, and we had a day-in-the-life session to come that would be an extension of this.
Thanks for stopping by to meet the Ramsey family. Join me next week for the other half of their story. Please enquire about having your own family photography session with me above.
The clock ticked over and we’d blown the funding goal out of the water for our Kickstarter project. Wesley, Pablo, and I sat down for a well deserved glass of whiskey and stared out at the Han River for a couple of hours. A mixture of shock, affirmation, and fear for what was to come kept us running on adrenaline as we chatted through how far we had come. The book was ready, but little did we know how difficult it would be to print. We had made samples and contracts well in advance, and had a relationship with our printer. However, as anyone who has lived over here can tell you, nothing is ever confirmed until the last minute. In the end, it took us nearly three months to print what should have been done in a few days. But we got there, and it looks fantastic. If you haven’t got a copy yet, please support the Lai Tu Chin people by picking one up from my store!
Back to photographing families in Seoul, though! I had a great few months here that began with Faye bringing her children over to Korea for a holiday and us spending a whole day exploring the city together. From their beautiful Hanok stay to the parks all around the city, we trekked around but could not wear the kids out. Thanks for a great day, guys!
Travis and Kim Bolton were my next family session for this quarter. We headed out to Seoul forest to soak up the beautiful greens and get ourselves a few mosquito bites! Despite Kai having a rough couple of days with a virus running through his system, he perked up in the sunlight and we had a great session together.
Next up was the Mohr family. With three adopted boys, they decided to visit Korea and give their children a chance to see their birthplace as they grow up. In amongst visiting their foster families and visiting everything they could, we got to squeeze in a family session to get some portraits of the boys at Gyeongbokgung one morning. Each of the boys had such a different personality, and it was quite a challenge to get them all showing themselves in one picture, but I think the below two give you a fair idea!
The joy that is a new adoption came to my doorstep again with the Swanner family. Tara and Brandon were adding number FIVE to their family in young Chandler! We had a fantastic morning at the agency and then again when they returned to take custody of him. Tara and Brandon are inspiring parents, and their love and dedication for their children is quite overwhelming. Hope we can see you all soon!
Between all of this, it was time for some editorial work for South China Morning Post and Malaysia Airlines’ Magazine. I love this sort of work because it forces me to re-explore Seoul. After a while, the city becomes the norm, a place to live and nothing more. Working for international publications means I have to see it in its best light. It’s a great exercise in renewing your love for a place. A couple of shots from that time are below.
Of course, it also helps when you get to travel a little. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Jeju Island this year, which despite its over-the-top development at the hands of new land owners, is still one of my favourite places in the country. The ocean all around is a calming presence, and brings you back down to earth after the mayhem of Seoul. Here is one of my favourites from my time down there.
Another favourite spot of mine is Jeonju. This beautiful little city is another example of rampant commercialisation, but pockets of beauty can still be found there as well. I spent a day with Chris and Kim photographing their pre-wedding photos in the old city. Ducking and weaving our way past the tourist hotspots to the simpler, prettier parts of town, we made some great images in the gorgeous light that the town gets courtesy of not having high-rise buildings everywhere. The following day, I squeezed in a little personal shooting time before heading back up to Seoul. Countryside Korea is wonderfully friendly and full of characters, and Jeonju is no exception.
A couple more wonderful afternoons days out with families this month would get me through to my final assignment of the quarter. Both sessions were held at Changgyeonggung, my favourite palace in Seoul because it’s so quiet and rustic. Not to mention that it’s surrounded by park land!
Last up was a job with Thermo Fisher Scientific working on their staff stories. My job was to show Tony, VP & GM of Thermo Fisher Korea, in his story of unity within Seoul. Tony’s team address some huge issues in Korea, such as air quality, which anyone who has been here can tell you about. Tony’s story revolves around getting everyone working together to solve a common problem. Thankfully, we had one of the clearest days of the year to show off their good work!
On top of all of this, I am proud to announce that my second large personal project is under way. Myself and Marco Tessiore visited Taiwan during the week of Typhoon Meranti (hardly planned, but you take what you can get!) to begin working with additional tribes practising facial tattoos in Asia. Amongst the Taiwanese aborigines, many practised facial tattoos in the past, but very few living examples remain. We visited in order to explore their culture and hear their stories. Many are now too frail to participate in our project, but of the people we were able to meet, you can see some samples below. A new site has been set up to facilitate this project, and we are looking for funding to complete a pan-Asia project of tattooed faces. Please do let us know if you are interested in helping out or know someone who might be!
Thank you again for taking the time to follow me on this journey. Next week will be the last instalment for this year. Check back then!
Almost exactly three years ago, I met with Brian and Lisa as they travelled to Seoul to meet the newest member of their family, Lucy. The sweet, reserved little girl we met then has since grown into a sweet, outgoing little girl, and I was absolutely beside myself when I got a message from Brian saying they were traveling again to adopt another new member of the family, Henry. Lisa and Brian invited me into their family again to document one of their first days as a family with Henry.
I knocked on the door to their accommodation in Seoul and it was opened almost immediately by Jack, with Lucy in tail. They had grown so much, Jack was almost twice Lucy’s height now, and Lucy had lost all of her baby-fat. I was instantly bombarded with questions and stories from the pair of them, as though we’d never parted. Jack’s love for the animal kingdom hadn’t diminished at all, and he had question after question about Australian animals again. Lucy had a sweet little voice of her own now, and showed me, at least once, everything she had learnt to do in the past three years. With the non-stop energy of a three-year-old, Henry tore up and down the room, carrying toys this way and that; his siblings were barely able to keep up! Lisa and Brian took their seats for a well needed rest stop, and we talked through their session. With the typhoon warning, we all agreed that sooner rather than later was a good idea, and we met a couple of days later, bright and early for their Day in the Life Session.
I walked in the door to this scene early that morning – Henry drumming on his siblings’ heads. We spent the first part of the morning darting about the apartment, pillow fighting, dancing, and occasionally crossing the line to play with someone elses toys! Grabbing the opportunity to take it slow, Brian and Lisa watched from a distance as the children bonded and entertained themselves with anything and everything.
We then took the subway over to Gyeongbok-gung to let the children explore some of Korea’s history. Henry’s love for running was as evident outside as it was in, and we had a great time chasing each other up and down the palace alleys, and kicking the ball in the grassy fields out back.
We grabbed a bite to eat before heading over to our family location, Children’s Grand Park. We played here until it was clear that the forecast rain was going to come soon. By the time we got back onto the train, the children were exhausted, so we’d probably made a good call there as well. To round up the evening, we took a quick group shot in the ever increasing wind, and parted ways.
Please get in touch to enquire about your own family session in Seoul or anywhere in Korea.
Twenty-three months after signing the papers to begin their adoption process, I met the Zanes family on the ground as their family photographer here in Seoul. They could not have wished for a better start to their lives with Michael Ubin as their youngest sibling. His big brother and sister smothered him with love, and his parents with all the care in the world. Michael smiled back in return and took to his family without hesitation.
We spent the day together, starting with breakfast of course. Big brother and sister took the reins for a little while so their parents could eat, and of course get coffee – jet lag is never far behind when dropping in from the USA.
Then we hit the playroom, where Michael and Ellie found it hilarious that Brennan found himself under their car.
From there it was up to Seoul Tower, where Michael was the star of the show in all his cuteness. Ellie didn’t fail to impress with her blonde hair, either.
To keep the day rolling, we moved to Changgyeong-gung for a play in the leaves and some hanbok photos. We even got scolded by a lady for having a little of Brennan’s t-shirt showing under his hanbok. She promptly corrected us and let us go back about our day. Lesson learned.
Finally to wrap up the day, we visited Children’s Grand Park to play in the playground until jet lag kicked in and it was time for a break.
Please take a look at my portfolio, and get in touch to book your own family session in Seoul. Again, a huge thanks to the Zanes family for being so much fun, and wishing you all the best for the future.
Finally, it’s time to get Part 3 of my Year in Review as a Seoul photographer underway. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. Last time we left a couple of stories unfinished, so I’d like to start this post with those. After a two month wait, it was finally time to see Amber and Matt again, and be there as they took custody of their too-cute-to-be-true son Asher.
It would also be time that I got to spend time with another three families from earlier in the year. Nell‘s mother would be back for the final part of the journey, and we would find out what a trooper Nell was (also, how much she liked gifts of jewelry and crayons!). Not a tear was shed by this brave girl, and she was asleep before we got back to the apartment!
I would also have the chance to be there as Ezra‘s custody was finalised, and as he excitedly helped his new family move rooms. We would also spend an extremely hot summer afternoon at Changgyeong-gung to work on some adorable family photos as well.
The Schubring family also had me out for a couple of days with their energetic young bunch; Annabelle, Joseph and now Joshua! Joseph was an absolute star with his little brother, and over the moon to be seeing his foster-mother again. Next up was the Jones family and their fabulous little fellow, Josiah. Check out his personality on my Instagram! We had a great morning together in Gyeongbok-gung to celebrate their finalising his adoption. Josiah could not have been a more fun boy to work with. We played hide and seek and chased each other all over, with him winning against us oldies every time!It wouldn’t be long before I’d be hanging out at Olympic Park with the Wilson family being chased around be two little men doing their best dinosaur impressions. And then another warm day out chasing Lawson about Deoksu-gung on his first time out and about with his new family.
To wind up an extremely busy month, I also had the cover of Groove Magazine for their story on the changing Itaewon; a parody of the popular Itaewon Freedom song.
August was a little slower, and I was able to spend 7 days in Wyoming with a couple of my besties, Shawn and Megan, for their wedding in the mountains. I almost didn’t come back. Almost. My first morning in Wyoming greeted me with nothing but the winds swishing through the grass…
And then there was a wedding…
And then the final morning…
Back in Seoul, we had our fair share of beautiful skies over August as well. Some of the finest I’ve ever seen in Korea.
I would also have the pleasure to document the first time Ari coloured with his big brother at Holt Children’s Services in Seoul.
And finally meet the Murphree family as they came to hang out with Jack Cruz for the first time. In a room full of chaos, Jack Cruz focused his energy and playfulness on his new parents, who were two of the happiest people I’ve ever seen after that meeting.
In September, it was time for the Wooten family to extend their arms for another new member.
As well as the Tsong family, who we will meet again next time.
Following this up was an awesome pre-wedding session with Alice and Erick in a few different locations.
And to wrap it all up, a wonderful Day in the Life session with two amazing new parents, Karen and Mark, as they spent their first day with their son, Kai. I’ll leave you with my favourite frame from this session – the full blog is coming!
Of all the things I photograph here in Seoul, by far the most rewarding are the family sessions I am able to be part of. I have witnessed more than 20 children meeting their new families through the international adoption system, and spent hundreds of hours with expat families looking to create a memento of their time here in Korea.
Brooke and Justin got in touch way back in January of this year. They had seen the work I did with Lori, Steve and Davis in Seoul, and were waiting patiently for their own travel dates to be set. We kept in touch throughout the year, but it wasn’t until August 25th that I would finally meet them as they held their second son for the first time. Their waiting paid off immediately as Jack Cruz ran them around the room and smothered them with hugs and kisses. We had this short time together, but on their second trip, I would spend time with my new found friends as their family came together.
It was 7am, the day after custody, when I arrived quietly expecting to be buzzed into the apartment complex. We thought that Jack Cruz would still be sound asleep. Exactly the opposite was the case. He was up and ready to face the day, walking his new family around the apartment complex with everything he had. We started our day with a session in the playground in the complex with slides, borrowing of tricycles and chasing each other every which way.
Following the morning session, I was there for Jack Cruz’ first lunch with his family, his first war for a Starbucks’ bagel with his brother, his first shirt change, the simple joy that a remote control can bring, crayon drawing session on the shower walls, and trip to the top of Seoul tower. I saw his brother lead him safely across the road, and finally kiss him good night. Nothing could have prepared me for the love and understanding that was forged that day between Jack Cruz, Perry, Justin and Brooke. Being a part of this day was an absolute joy and honour.
“This adoption thing is for real,” Brooke messaged me the following day. It sure is. Jack Cruz wasn’t all smiles. Like any person who is displaced from everything familiar, he had his ups and downs during the day. Far outweighing his short crying bouts, however, was the love shown to him by his new family and their dedication to doing the right thing by Jack Cruz in the long run. It’s easy to see that Jack Cruz will have a wonderful place in the world to call his own, with a loving family that will give him nothing but the best.
Again, thank you Brooke and Justin for allowing me to be a part of your lives at this special time, and for becoming great friends in the process. It was wonderful to be able to document your family and give you these memories to look back on. The video below will give you a much more detailed look into our day together.
Below is an excerpt from words that Brooke shared with me after our session.
After we received that long anticipated phone call saying it was time to come to Korea to meet our son, Jack Cruz, the first person to know was Dylan! Thankfully, his schedule was free during our travel dates and we were booked.
Before our meeting, Dylan was kind enough to meet us and take us for coffee (and smoothies) to brief us on how the meetings typically run and what to expect, etc. It was so comforting to really get to know Dylan on more of a personal level before we experienced this life changing meeting with him. He eased our anxiety and really prepped us to just enjoy the moment and have fun with our new son.
I cannot express enough how thankful I am to have had Dylan by our side during that meeting. We rode the elevator doors up to the correct floor and they opened, and we were facing our son! He was literally running out of the meeting room toward us! And from there, we were ninety to nothing the entire time! Jack Cruz was (is) SO full of energy and joy that we were either running, jumping, or giving kisses to one another the entire time. I didn’t have a single second to grab my camera or phone to snap any photos and video…and honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to. It was such a blessing to be able to soak up every single second with Jack Cruz instead of worrying about settings on a camera.
On that first full day with our son, we asked Dylan to arrive about 7am thinking our little one would sleep until at least 8:00 or so. But Jack Cruz surprised us with a 5:00 greeting to start our day. So, we ended up meeting Dylan at the playground our apartment complex had. From there, Dylan followed us as we enjoyed breakfast, nap time, lunch, more playground time, a trip to the Seoul Tower and Folk Village, dinner at an amazing little American pub, shower time, and then lullabies at bedtime. Basically, whatever we were up for, Dylan was there to document.
The photos from this day are stunning. I can’t look through them without being flooded with emotion and shedding a few tears over how special that day was to us. Being able to relive each moment of the day is priceless. He captured SO MUCH. There were so many photos that I didn’t even ‘see’ in the moment, yet I have them to cherish for a lifetime. I can’t imagine missing all that I would have if it weren’t for Dylan. And of course, add in that he was able to translate some of the Korean language for us and we pretty much owe him our life.
We wouldn’t trade our decision to have Dylan in our adoption journey for anything. We are so grateful for his amazing talent and that he is willing to exhaust so much energy to help us cherish these blessed moments forever. (Seriously, his job is exhausting!) Adoption is such a heartbreakingly beautiful journey and there is so much that both the adoptive parents and adoptees lose and miss out on, but because of Dylan, these precious moments didn’t have to be one of them.
“She’s not the same girl you met in the summer, is she?” Mary Leigh posted to me. Indeed she is not. Nell has come forward in leaps and bounds. She is energetic, loving and full of personality. Watching her current family session vicariously through family instagram posts, I was extremely envious of their photographer. Nell was as open and active as her brothers, and that’s saying something! Part of me wishes I was there to capture that part of their story as well, but Nell is a cool 11,151km away with her new family.
Our own short session here in Seoul took quite a bit more convincing to get Nell involved. Her word of the day was kaja, and did not want to leave the safety of Mary Leigh’s arms. It was two days before her birthday, and continuing family tradition, we had set out to capture some photographs of her in this place at this time. We managed a frame or two in between moving from location to location as Nell pointed them out to us.
Sweets, milk, and all the things that Nell usually loved could not bring her back. Even the photo of her that I printed on the spot only got a short smile before we were back on our kaja adventure. In the end we found that she liked to throw a ball and managed a solid 3 minutes in one location with Nell opening up to us a little.
We had a difficult time that day, and it was understandable. Nell was adjusting to her new situation, and that can’t have been easy for her. Knowing that we were possibly pushing her a little too much, and that more importantly she may simply need some time to process, we called the session short and Mary Leigh took Nell home. She went to sleep in the 5 minute taxi ride home, obviously exhausted and in need of some down time.
To see her now, you wouldn’t know this girl, or how difficult this time must have been for her. She has made a wonderful transition to her new family and is finding herself anew. The bombardment of smiles and short videos of her progress that keep coming my way keep me acutely aware of what a wonderful thing adoptive families are doing, and how lucky I am to be a part of these stories.
Cannot wait for the chance to see the Browns again! Thanks and all the best to Nell, Brodie, Bates, Nick and Mary Leigh. See y’all soon!
It’s been a while since my last update here, as there’s been a lot on the back-burner here. The constant stream of Nell updates that flows through my social media reminds me daily that I need to finish this story. So, here it is. Part 2 of meeting Nell in Seoul.
I mentioned last time how much this assignment made me remember the importance of what I do as a photographer, and the second session was no different from the first. Capturing Bates leading Nell cautiously through the playground for the first time and the first flower Nell’s mother picked for her. These moments are why what we do is important; being able to hold those memories in still frames to keep forever.
Today’s session started out with Nell pouring over the photos from our last session with her family. Her love photographs of herself clearly evident. As we walked to the park, stopping to sniff a flower here or there, small gestures of trust on Nell’s part were made in the form of brief handholding and smiles from the arms of her foster mother again.
The playground was too much to resist, however. She quickly made her way down and began to play on everything with her family. The seesaw got a short innings, before heading for the slide and walking with Bates around the perimeter. This was all too much in the end, and Nell sat down for a carton of milk almost as big as herself. Poking a straw straight into the carton, she was content to just sip away and watch the other children play.
We snatched her up for a quick family photo at the end, which she was not entirely thrilled about, but we managed a frame before she decided it was time to leave. With her favourite word, kaja (let’s go), she was off. Again, all too soon, we watched Nell take her leave – this time she blew a kiss on her way down the path.