Welcome back to the second installment of my Year in Review series for 2020. In this piece, we’ll focus on the few jobs that came in and a whole lot of personal work as the pandemic’s grip on society tightened. There’s plenty to see and plenty to talk about, so let’s jump right in.
April – Family and Portrait Photographer
April is usually the tipping point of my year here in Seoul. It is the time when I go from having a couple of shoots a week to essentially not sleeping. This year, it was the point where the pandemic really started to show itself. All international events in Seoul were canceled and even the local businesses were starting to be extra cautious. Nobody really knew where this thing was going and pretty much everything non-essential was put on hold.
Thankfully, a local rental house, HK Tools & Rental, had taken this opportunity to offer 2 days of free rental of Fujifilm’s GFX 100 medium format camera and I was lucky enough to have my name on the list. For April 1st and 2nd, I would have this absolute monster of a camera in my possession and so I scrambled through my list of subjects I’d wanted to photograph over the years and found two who agreed to be photographed during this time.
On the first day, I met up with Im Soon Gook from Sori Gukakgi, a master craftsman of Korean traditional instruments. He was a kind and gentle man who initially only planned to spend a short while with me, but in the end, we spent most of the day working together. He took me through the process of making his instruments from choosing the wood all the way through to stringing them and testing their quality. His workshop is well worth a visit if you’re looking to pick up a beautiful traditional instrument.
The following day, I would have the opportunity to meet, interview, and photograph a man I have admired for some time, Apro Lee. I have followed his work for some time as it relates heavily to my Tattoos of Asia project. Finally, I had a good excuse to reach out to him and ask for a moment of his time. He graciously agreed and we spent a couple of hours chatting and working in his studio. I’ve posted my interview with him on my personal site so if you’re interested, you can read more about Apro here. His interview will serve as a modern counterpart to the traditional tattooing found in my final book.
Not wanting to waste the moments I would have with a camera that is complete overkill for my day-to-day work, I decided to quickly head up a local hill with a great view over the city and make a couple of nightscapes. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful for most of spring this year and I was able to get a reasonably clear night for this frame.
We had a much longer than average cherry-blossom season this year and I was glad to have the opportunity to photograph at least one family session under the blossoms and even get out to play with Laowa’s new 65mm f/2.8 2x Macro for a while. Hopefully next year we’ll have an equally long blossom season and plenty of opportunities for families to get out and enjoy the flowers.
Next up, I had another couple of family sessions I certainly hadn’t expected to have at the beginning of the pandemic. A huge thanks to both the Graves and Brunck families for entrusting me with their family memories during these trying times. More from these sessions will be posted in the coming months. Stay tuned for those.
For a couple of days after this, I had the chance to rest and explore the city as the pandemic started to take hold of our daily lives. It seemed almost strange to be looking at the world through the lens of having to be wary of everyone and consider that spending time alone was the healthiest thing for even the most social among us at this time. With those constraints firmly in mind, I started to explore Seoul with that outlook. Finding simplicity in a city of this size and photographing it as you see it is a challenge, but made for some interesting work during this time. I had just purchased a bicycle in the hopes of using my down time more healthily and also being able to freely explore the city in a safer manner. This turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done to date, as will become apparent in the final section of this Year in Review.
My next assignment was a huge one for Hong Design who had recently won the bid to produce Avison Young’s micro-retail trends guide. The assignment was simple, I had to make the Gangnam Station area feel like Gangnam. Each street in the area has its own specific feel and I needed to capture those as supporting images for the data in the report. The report would be undergoing a complete overhaul with its new designers and I had the freedom to produce the images in a way that I saw fit. I’ll be making a full post about this process soon but, for now, here are a few images from the few days I spent exploring a district I never visit.
The rest of this month was spent exploring the city on my bicycle again. While times were definitely uncertain for businesses all around the world, I was determined to make the most of this time that I had. We were fully expecting the pandemic to lessen in intensity within a couple of months, so it wasn’t time to hit the panic button just yet. So, best to enjoy the cycling paths that Korea offers. On another note, the Lotte Tower image below is one of many in my new print store! I’d really appreciate it if you’d check that out!
May – A Month of Personal Work
May would be the first month since I opened my business in 2013 that I would not have a single booking. The world was on pause and although it was quite frightening (Seoul is not a cheap place to live!), I was determined to remain positive and keep using my time to explore Korea.
Somewhere along this road, I had decided that someone who’d never really exercised at all was going to go from a base of nothing to riding across the country in a couple of months’ time. So, I set out to train myself by making daily rides around the city and weekly rides out of the city and back. Here is a swatch of images from the Han River in Seoul, the ride out to Chuncheon, and the ride out to the Ara Lock in Incheon over the course of this month.
The one thing I did work on over the course of May was a book that would be released later in the year. The gentlemen from The Ocean Collective needed a huge collection of images from disparate sources unified for their upcoming album release. Alongside the album would be a book that detailed their journey over the past year of touring. So, myself and designer Pablo Fuentes Gomez (the man responsible for designing my first book and all-round stand-out gentlemen) set to putting all of that together for release. You can see a couple of pages of that below.
June – Family and Editorial Photographer
Once May was over, a few shoots began to come in. Starting out the month, I met with the Lamont family as they had their first meeting with their son Jack. It was a fun-filled and energetic meeting that gave us all a great glimpse into Jack’s fun-loving personality. Here are a few frames from that day.
Following this, I had a few more days off that were filled with cycling and a quick trip to the east coast to work with some filters that my friends at Haida had sent over for testing. Samcheok is one of my favourite areas of the country, so I decided to head there to test the filters. Of course, while I was in town, I made sure to get a few images for myself. I’ve long had a fascination with the ocean and the people who work with it, so this was a great chance for me to get up-close-and-personal with opportunities we don’t have in Seoul. You can see a more complete set from one of the harbours here.
While the east coast wasn’t too productive for my filter testing (not many clouds or waves), I did have a great time. Back in Seoul, the weather was more conducive to what I was aiming for and I managed some really interesting long exposures during the day. Haida’s One Million X Edition ND allows for some extreme exposure times. I also had the pleasure of working with the Healy family as they met their son for the first time as well. This was another busy first meeting with plenty of different activities to keep us all occupied. Starting with a tentative offering of a lego block and quickly developing into laughs and cuddles, this was about as good as a first meeting can get! On top of that, possibly the longest lasting and nicest sunset of the year happened on my ride that evening.
A couple of days later, it was time to jump on the train and head down to Mokpo for the Social Innovation in the Community magazine. With the rise in pressure on young people in the country, mental health has become one of the biggest issues facing Korean society today. Our interviewee, Hong Dong-Woo, has built a support network and respite town under the name of “Don’t Worry Village” and has young people spend as much time as they need getting support and learning to overcome the psychological difficulties that Korea’s cut-throat society forces on them.
A few days later, we had the chance to witness the solar eclipse of 2020 here in Seoul. This was actually the real reason Haida had sent that extremely dark ND filter my way. With it, I could safely photograph the eclipse. Although conditions were not perfect and I don’t own a lens long enough to photograph the sun in high resolution, I still made my way out to take it in and make a few images. Below, you can see what we saw here in Seoul and also a gent who really didn’t care much for the eclipse, but was strutting his stuff nonetheless.
My final two sessions of this quarter were a fun family session with the Legg family and an event. Thanks to the pandemic, we were able to freely use the grounds of the national museum. This is normally not possible when the museum is open, so it was a great opportunity for us to use a location that was close to the family’s hearts. The last session would a behind-the-scenes document of the Seoul production of New Zealand’s Tech Roadshow. Unfortunately, this event would be online this year, but it certainly showcased what technology can do for us in a situation like this.
Thanks again for making it this far with me! In the next installment, we’ll be ramping things up with some commercial work and a lot more families. See you next week!