A Touch of Cultural Leprosy


Oh Korea you try so hard and still come up short but I’m impressed by the gains made over these last three years. Today was about the art or practice of taking and processing photographs. Korean photographers never cease to disappoint me, even though they have the canvas in the monotonous ritual that is the work orientated existence of everyday Korean life. They often fail to capture it because they don’t extract any soul and they lack creativity. Korean photographers simply imitate others. To be influenced or inspired  by others is not the problem but you have to get what they’re about to inform your own style.

I’m struggling because I have photo heroes; Lowy; Frank; Leibowitz; Alvedon; Arbuss; Penn; Man Ray; Brandt; McCullin; Ritts and Klein but I can’t imitate. My style is about frame, form and geometry because of my engineering background. I wish colour inspired me but it frightens, noire is where I’m comfortable. If I have to choose one photo I wish I could have created it is simply about the colour and it’s Liebowitz’ image of the White Stripes, it quite simply is Americana personified. Today I went to see two photographers who i didn’t think would complement each other, I was surprised. First I need to say visiting galleries mid-week in Seoul is a pleasure, the memories of which I will take away with me. No screaming kids or wailing banshees annoyed with their over-indulgent boyfriends, just students and women doing lunch; almost wonderful.

The two photographers Linda McCartney (at the Daelim, Seoul) and the lesser known and more respected 🙂 Henri Cartier-Bresson (at the DDP, Seoul). McCartney’s exhibition, which is the first comprehensive retrospective of her works worldwide, presents 190 of her iconic photographs of sixties rock and roll, her family life and nature. Born in New York she documented the “swinging sixties” with her portraits of stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Aretha Franklin and Simon & Garfunkel. The palpable atmosphere of closeness and informality in her fresh, candid photographs makes her approach to portraiture unique. On the other hand Bresson’s work, through obviously influential, appears much more contrived and admittedly staged. He is the draughtsman she is the artist; controversial but in my opinion true. McCartney’s family snaps demonstrate her distinctive personal style: a casual elegance combined with an instinctive feeling for capturing the subject at just the right instant. Again the Breton dichotomy raises its ugly head, his portraits seem contrived hers resonate with soul. Hers exude class where his lack class but have high draughting merit and skill (my opinion!).

Good-looking, urbane, the rebellious child of French haute bourgeois privilege, he (Breton) networked effortlessly, and had ready access to, and friendships with, the political and culture beau monde of his time. Bresson had advantage as did our Linda; he used that advantage to capture the significant others of his day as did she but hers have, I believe, a greater honesty. That said I loved both exhibits; Bresson’s technically superior but Macca’s had the soul and moved me once or twice to a wet eye moment.

The Koreans of course cannot relate to either, it’s art, it’s publicised so its something to consume along with cosmetics and Dunkin D’s. Linda’s exhibit was more accessible to them; many know Hendrix and the Beatles but on my visit they were giggling over the cute animals that are part of the McCartneys life in Scotland. At the Bresson exhibit there was nothing familiar and they scuttled around without seeming to appreciate even his draughting skills.

I’m now done with Seoul and soon Korea; tomorrow I head back to the very “Dullju” for a last few weeks. Korea I thank you for being there when I needed a new challenge and a change of direction; I thank you for making me realise that my education was great and your system is fundamentally flawed. I’ve seen beautiful places and met lovely people but your country and its culture doesn’t inspire me or leave me wanting more so it’s arriverdverci, goodbye and good luck to you. I feel you’ve lost your way; come a revolution that may change but essentially I fear not. I hope I left a form of legacy but I fear that didn’t happen either. You gave me a haven to rejuvenate in but nothing more.

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