An Awesome Installation, Street Murals and Supersized Advertisements.


I’d taken delivery of a new MZuiko 17mm F1.8 and Olympus PEN EP5 in what has been suggested is the prefect technological marriage for street photography. With this in mind I tried to suppress my iPhone 5S Oggl obsession and take on a more traditional photo challenge this long national holiday weekend. Because of the recent demise of Apple Aperture I’d also invested in the Adobe Creative Cloud whereby for a reasonable monthly fee I’m given access to the editing utopia of Lightroom 5 and Photoshop.

I’d originally intended to take the 5pm express bus to Seoul on Thursday but the Bunny Boiler had sucked my energy and I therefore traded the idea with pasta and vino followed by an early doors sleep. Rising refreshed at 5 am I headed to the Terminal to grab the desolate 6:05 am to Seoul. The ticket booths were closed but the elderly “information” guy was on hand to help me navigate the Hangeul only automatic machines and ease my burden.

The journey was as “express” as it is possible, the opposite lane choca with departing Seoulites. After a 90 minute tether between phone and tablet I arrived to find that the EBT was busy again with the departing throngs of Seoul citizens. Surprisingly the welcoming bosom of Holly’s was not unduly overpopulated. I found a corner to re-charge both myself and my phone battery.

My first port of call after dropping off my backpack at the hotel was SPACE Gallery near Anguk Station, Jongno. The Space building, which overlooks Changgyeong Palace, was constructed in 1971 (a separate glass building was added in 1997), the structure was designed by the pioneering South Korean architect Kim Swoo-geun, and housed his Space Group architectural firm.

The opening exhibition features works by major Western and Asian names. Perhaps the best known work is Marc Quinn’s “Self” (2001), which is a cast of the British artist’s head filled with 4.5 liters of the artist’s own blood. It’s kept in a dark, refrigerated room. Ms Emin also is represented in video and this is supplemented by her famous anti-racism quilt.

The exhibition also includes works by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, whose “Everything is Inside” (2004), shows the top half of a black and yellow Ambassador car, the classic Indian vehicle, with sculptures of bronze luggage nestled on the roof.  Other works include Japanese artist Kohei Nawa’s stuffed deer covered with clear crystal balls, and French artist Pierre Huyghe’s show featuring small lights beamed on to vapors from a smoke machine that change color in time to a Claude Debussy composition. The official title is, L’Expédition Scintillante, Acte 2, Untitled (Light Box), 2002. The sounds of Erik Satie orchestrated by Claude Debussy filter through the space as pulsing lights and smoke emanate from the stage like sculpture. The ambiance evokes a psychedelic concert. Huyghe recalls Rock and Roll being dubbed the new religion. The experience of this work is mesmerising and uplifting and I highly recommend this piece to the reader.

The gallery’s modern glass extension has a boulangerie, a stylish café, and other restaurants. The Gallery shop has some stylish souvenirs to suit all pockets my only suggestion is that they don’t follow you around like an irritating carbunkle. My one suggestion is they develop an outdoor terrace as the architecture is as interesting as the varied collection inside, I’ll be visiting again.

I wandered from here into the hidden alleys of Wonseo-dong towards Gahoe-dong and the heart of Bukchon Hanok Village. My mission this weekend was to capture street shots of people but with an art backdrop of murals or advertising hoardings. I first discovered an over-sized figure with a contemplative facial expression followed by a vibrantly coloured image which was difficult  to photograph in the tricky lighting conditions. I’d remembered the sunshine mural from a previous walk and thought it would be a good test of my cameras processing and rendition capabilities. The crowds were out in force so it became difficult to grab shots with good composition.

My short journey was lightened by the bizarre use of English that appears on Korean garments. One of the most common is “Calm the Fuck Down” which is meant to be a play on Comme Des Garcons (I think), they actually wear this to school. Another amusing notion is that Korean girls believe that they can walk the very uneven Korean streets in high-heels with a boob tube around their nether regions and this will look attractive, girls it doesn’t. Many shops and restaurants had long queues developing confirming the Korean obsession for freebies and offers and the misconception that very average dumplings are manna from heaven. Its also amazing how they feel its OK to walk head down with headphones on glued to TV programs whilst simultaneously stamping on your feet or kneeing your testicles.

Impervious as I am now to all this I powered my way towards Insadong deciding to take the back alley route to the Fraser Suites and Cafe Bene from where I’d grab a line one to Seoul Station and the Silom Fire-pot Sauna for a salt scrub. My hotel room (very unusually for Seoul) had an outside space with table and chairs and so on my return I took aboard some vino rouge whilst browsing my photo mags. Unfortunately the ambiance was destroyed by my eager American neighbour who thought I needed a friend.  This problem was solved quickly by the addition of Sennheiser Momentums to cover my ears.

The evening was relatively subdued as it was a national holiday so after some Khanbu Chicken and a couple of cold beers I decided to have an early night and burn the candle a little later on Saturday. Returning to the refuge of my balcony I edited the days photos, extremely impressed by my new equipment combo.

Saturday morning I’d decided to search out a repair for my EPL-5 shutter button and so took a stroll though Jongno to Nandaemun market where I’d purchased the baby sister to my EP5. It was quite early, around 9 am, and the busiest place was the giant Pagoda English Language School. Because the sun was low in the sky but partially hidden the shadows were long in the few gaps between gleaning skyscrapers. This gave me the opportunity to snap some pictures as folk passed under the Cheongyecheon Bridges. I cut through towards the Lotte Department Store as there’s usually some characters loitering around the paved areas outside. Opposite on a traffic Island a vagrant had made his home his Rhino-hide features fashioned in the extremes of the Korean Winter and Summer.

Outside Lotte the mainly Japanese and Chinese crowds were building outside the ever popular duty free area. A woman dressed in a lacey number embellished with bears and crucifixes teetered on some steps, adjacent to this a male fashionista quaffed coffee as he and his girl sucked on fags. Walking through the “K-wave Star” arcade I was struck by the contradiction between the posters of perfect skin and how that is actually achieved; at great expense and often with surgery.

Lotte is clad with giant posters of stylish women and famous men which make a great backdrop for photography. Beckham was advertising Breitling and their Bentley watch, other posters promoted Cartier, H & M and Zara. Arriving at the camera store (DICAMALL) as I expected they would not deal with repairs but they were helpful giving me two locations in Yongsan and Gangnam were the camera could be made good, unfortunately not this holiday weekend. Interestingly I realised that my new recent purchases had been bought on G  Market but from the same store. Dicamall can be recommended to Olympus users and is situated at 20-10 Namdaemun-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul.

Wandering around Nandeamun market I came across a number of characters and a smokers bridge. The locals included a cross-dresser and Groucho Marx masked Mexican character and a number of ladies still looking for business. Shinsegae was busy the window dressings offering more photo opportunities, I stepped in for exorbitantly priced Italian Sausage and Taleggio.

Myeongdong was buzzing and remembering last nights uncomfortable temperature drop i searched out jumpers but I refuse to pay the prices Korean retailers think is proper, a bit contradictory after the sausage and cheese :-). The Whiskers guy was out again as were some scantily clad young Lolita’s pushing make-up. The Boys aiming to look like girls were legion as were the barrow boys hoping to entice you into a sneakers purchase.  For the first-timer the maelström of noise is quite electrifying but for old hats like me its akin to a perpetual nightmare.

I passed over to Seoul Plaza where a great stage was being prepared for concert and on the side of Seoul City Hall a mammoth mural of a child towered over me. The Cheongyecheon had an installation of umbrellas next to the faux waterfall and kids queued to cast coins and wish for great fortune, good test results or in the future a rich husband. I stopped for a paddle chatting to a Dutch Couple in Korea just one day, I recommended a good Nepalese restaurant to them arranging a beer at 3:14 later in the day. I headed along Pitmatgol “food” Alley emerging opposite Tapgol Park which was buzzing with a saxophonist and makeolli fueled songs. After an hour relaxing and deleting unwanted snaps I grabbed an ice-cream from a miserable vendor before heading to the coffee shop for further relaxation.

In the evening I headed to bar 3:14 where I met the Dutch couple who ravished the supreme pizza. We also were joined by the boss of IKEA Korea, the first IKEA will open in Gwangmyeong City in Gyeonggi Province around December the company expanding to three stores on the periphery of Seoul by 2017. It was good to chat to liberal Europeans about the cultural clashes they’d experienced in the decade long process of launching IKEA in Korea.

Returning to Chungju on Sunday I thought about my future return (in 15 months) to Europe which would deliver the key benefit described above.  More intellectual chat and less disingenuous bullshit!

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