Photographers in Korea


If you are into photography and you are into Korea, a fine combination of the two can be found in [ P I K ], a new enough free online magazine which uses the accronym of its description Photographers in Korea, as its name.

More specifically:

PIK is an online photography magazine featuring contemporary photography from established and emerging photographers living in Korea. One of the aims of PIK , is to contribute to the development of the scene in Korea and help connect local and international talent within and outside the peninsula.

[ P I K ] May issue cover

[ P I K ] May issue cover / image courtesy of [ P I K ]

I’ve been taking photographs for years, of course, but only of late have I started to pay more attention to the actual process. This process lies between a better understanding of how my actual camera looks and trying to develop my own distinctive style. The learning how to use the camera aspect seems to be the easy part, but publications like [ P I K ] allow for the other important part of learning how to perfect (yes, a bit rich a term but allow me this one) any art form.

Take writing for instance, to become a better writer you need to write as much as possible whilst experimenting with different structure, content, style, and of course material. All of this may remain in your notebook as you busy yourself producing more refined written pieces built around your perceived writing identity. And while you’re doing this it’s imperative that you read.

Smartphones, despite their crticisms, are great ways of utilising two elements of this practive – their relatively decent camera functions and highly usable editing apps make them the ideal piece photography kit, whilst their internet function allows you to connect to pretty much every printed word posted online. That’s a fairly resourceful device, especially for reading. You can even carry around your entire kindle library, notes on dropbox, or if you’re so inclined you can source it from free from sites such as twitter, which if you curate your followings properly can even be used as mean stream of photographic content also.

Back to [ P I K ].

Monthly submissions from around Korea / image courtesy of [ P I K ] facebook account

The magazine started out in October 2013, and has steadily been building and impressive following. Content is made up of, obviously, photographs by Korea based photographers of varying notoriety, accompanied by essays about the particular photographers. There’s also a useful page or two about new gear and online resources. It was in [ P I K ] where I actually came across some really good Facebook groups for Korea based photographers, Seoulighters and FIS. Both are very active in the non-internet world and are well worth joining if you’re into Korean based photography.

[ P I K ], however, serves a much more important function. Magazines on life and living come and go in Korea, and they have their purpose there is no doubt, but for publicity and sharing the variety of not only talent but also perspectives on Korea, they are limited. [ P I K ] does this. Each photographer looks at this country differently, and their photographs come from every corner, and indeed many of the islands, allowing for that wonderful aspect of photography, its presentation of another part of the immediately inaccessible world presented with the skill of a craftsman.

Now that I have finished lauding the magazine I should add that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a photograph featured in their February ‘Love’ issue.

My photograph from the February Love issue. Image courtesy of [ P I K ]

My photograph from the February Love issue / Image courtesy of [ P I K ]

[ P I K ] also allows for monthly Facebook submissions, and are well worth a look. You can find May’s here, also with a shot of mine in it. Make sure to check out the other months and albums too.

[ P I K ] can be found at http://www.photographersinkorea.com or on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/PhotogsInKorea. To download all previous issues of the magazine, check out their issu accout!

 

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Guest Post: All Foreigners Come Back


About two years ago Conor wrote a real nice piece about me as I had just left Korea. It’d been a pretty long journey for me as I’d been there for five years. As Conor wrote I was pretty excited to do some things I’d been saving and planning for a while, but beneath all that was some anxiety as my long term plans were still unclear.

It’s a long story but the short version is my first job out of college was teaching in the Midwestern United States. It was a tough place with a lot of challenges, and after two years I decided to leave. I had the idea in my head that I accomplished something, and thought I now deserved some fabulous life or something like that. Basically as soon as I left my life went downhill. Lots of different things went wrong, had some ugly experiences etc. One thing led to another and I ended up taking a job in Korea.

I was hesitant to go, but I was really upset and angry about how my life turned out. Looking back on the previous few years I felt I had nothing to show for myself. Suwon South Korea ended up being my new home, where I taught English at a public middle school.

Almost as soon as I arrived things turned around. The saying probably is true that there’s nothing like your first year in Korea. The kids were so excited to see me. Do you know what it is to walk into a room and have 40 kids cheering for you? One of them would write “Handsome James” on his tablet and hold it up like a sign. I couldn’t walk the hallways for a while because the kids would see me and get so excited.

Jim’s middle school in Suwon.

That first year I didn’t go out much, but I was happy because I pretty much had a good time at work every day. I made a few new friends, and eventually started getting out more, doing the whole Itaewon and Hon Dae thing, seeing bands etc. During breaks I also got to travel to a lot of places I always wanted to go. I went to Japan a few times, Australia, the Philippines, India, China, Thailand, and a bunch more.

Along the way I changed a lot, and one day when I was out playing basketball with my kids something really hit me. I should have kept that job in the Midwest. It took me almost ten years to figure it out.

I never thought I’d do five years in Korea. Especially those first three, I generally believed every year that “next year” I’d be going home. Cut to the end of 2010, it was almost 2011, I had some money saved up and had been in prayer about leaving at the right time. I was working on my birthday which is right before Christmas when I found the note on my desk. Due to budget cuts, once my current contract would run out on September 30th of 2011 I would not be renewed.

Several other foreigners would have the same fate. I’d heard rumors this was coming, so it wasn’t a total surprise, but still it really hit me. This is it, it really is over now. If this had happened a few years prior I’d have been more upset about it, but I just accepted that it was time to go.

So I soaked in every moment of those last nine months. It helped that the new batch of kids that came in were fantastic. That last year was probably my second best year in Korea as far as the job went.

Then that day came Conor wrote about that I hopped on that bus, and I was excited. In just a few weeks I’d go to the New York Comic Book Convention and meet the legendary Stan Lee. I’d do a cross country road trip; self-publish a few books and sell them at shows, and do all these things I’d been planning and saving towards, but then what?

Jim with his poetry book at the Poet’s House in New York City

Culture shock was something I’d never experienced, but coming back to my hometown that’s been getting worse and worse, seeing old friends go through hard times, not seeing people you expected to see, and just generally being back in western culture was a lot to deal with. Reverse culture shock hit me hard. When a westerner comes back from Korea their friends and family tell them they’re glad they’re back where it’s “safe.” They say this because they love us and they mean well, but they don’t understand that we were quite safe in Korea, maybe even more safe than at home. I’m eating pasta at a Pizza hut in Suwon when some high school boys I don’t know come in. They’re excited to talk to me and offer some of their pizza. I’m walking down the street and some Korean teenage boys walk the other way and it’s “Hi what’s your name where are you from? You are very handsome! Nice to meet you!” Now I’m not saying they’re perfect angels who never do anything wrong. I’ve heard “Fuck you James” a few times as well. But in my own hometown that summer I was back a 15 year old boy followed me and a friend down the street yelling and cursing at us acting like he wanted to fight us. That never happened to me in Asia.

Doing my cross country road trip was great. I’d seen a few old friends I hadn’t seen in 10+ years, went to a few places I’d never been to before, but some of it was really heavy for me too. I went back to my old school in the midwest and ran into a few old students. One of them even said to me “We told you not to leave and you fucking did anyway!” I was coming face to face with what I did wrong.

However there was another personal situation which I won’t get into which was clouding my judgment, and I kind of blew a chance to go back to my old school. Now I was in a situation where I needed to start working soon and didn’t’ know what to do. Times like this you go with what you know, and, Korea being Korea, I was quickly offered a job.

All foreigners go home, and a lot of foreigners end up coming back. Almost exactly a year after I’d left I was back in Korea. Even though the reverse culture shock was hard to deal with, I wasn’t happy to be back. It was for a lot of reasons, but in short I was only coming back for a job and didn’t like that being the only reason I was coming back. I was real pissed off for a bit, but luckily it wouldn’t last.

This time I was out in the country side, kind of like being out in the midwest. The kids were great. I got to see a few friends that were still in Korea, got to meet Conor’s +1, and made some new friends along the way.

Still I knew what needed to be done. Last summer at maybe 2 in the morning I made a phone call and got the news that I got my old job back. I did feel bad for having to break contract with the Korean school, but I figured I’d do the summer camp so I wouldn’t totally screw them over.

Jim’s new/old school in the US

I was ready to leave Korea this time, and that’s the thing. I wasn’t really ready to leave the first time. Coming back helped me realize that I shouldn’t stay in Korea forever, as much as it’s a good life and an easy life, I’m not meant to be a lifer.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t know. Conor asked for guest posts and this came to mind. I guess I’d want fellow teachers to know that there is life after Korea. Reverse culture shock can be really hard to deal with, but maybe reading this will help someone out there.

Both times when I went to Korea I did so hesitantly, but both times that country gave me a lot of healing and got me straightened out inside. In some ways Korea really saved my life. I’ll be forever thankful for that.

Dae-Han-Min-guk!

This post is guest post. For more on guest posts and how to submit please follow this link.

 

smiley jim

James Murray currently teaches high school social studies in the mid-western United States after traveling the world a bit. He enjoys movies, old cartoons, and a tall glass of milk. When he has spare time he attempts to write. In 2012 he started Hard Coal Studios for his self published comic books, poems, and prose. His website can be found at www.hardcoalstudios.com and he blogs at jemurr.wordpress.com/

Home to If I Had A Minute To Spare Towers


I kid because I love. But in this case I’m not kidding. I do live in a tower, a twenty storey high tower pitched between what seems like a thousand other twenty storey high towers. Although mine is made from concrete, steel, and glass, not ivory. This may or may not be a good thing.

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After a long summer away in Ireland, myself, Herself, and +1 have returned to our perch overlooking the ever present traffic which persists along that big long avenue that runs through Yeongtong-dong which I have no idea of the name.

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We have been told we have missed the worst of the heat, and we can well believe it as a cool breeze is now flowing through our apartment. Outside the weather is balmy indeed, with only the strong afternoon sun in our eyes to bother us as we stroll around.

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This evening, the first of September, the sky was truly clear for the first time as the sun encroached on the horizon of high-rise to our west. Bright, it turned the walls of the other apartments closest to us pink from white in its glow. All else which felled a shadow was black in its own silhouette from the departing evening. As it darkened more, all those shadows tuned to dusk, street lights came on as pin-pricks of fluorescent light, and the sky streaked with a brushstroke of cloud was layered in a peach kind of pink and a typical sky blue.

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It is home, I suppose.

The Koreans of Europe


No two cultures are the same but every one is similar, right? You could certainly say that about much of Europe, where thousands of years of breeding, trading, warring, traveling, and sharing across ever-shifting borders has caused a mixology of international characteristics of which one can be difficult to discern from the other.

In Asia, it is a little more difficult to separate the differences because the continent has suffered less fluctuation of its borders, and in terms of today’s map, colonialism for the most part decided on today’s borders. But still you can throw in the changes, regardless of actual influence, of international trade, development, colonialism, the sharing of ideas, television, and migration, and the wind at the weekend if you wish, and you will soon realise the stark similarities between peoples and cultures there.

Now that might seem like a simple notion, and it is, but if you take away cliché comparisons such as the idea that your culture and my culture are very musical, or that we have a distinct cuisine, or family is central to the social contract, then you have to get off your armchair and take a look a little closer.

When I first came to Korea from Ireland I was fascinated by the notion that the Koreans were called by someone as the Irish of the east. I thought to myself as I spent more time here that this was something to connect me with the country, that it was something stronger than the bonds which other nationalities might ascribe to their connections with Korea. But those reasons for which Korea is lauded for its Irishness really didn’t appear to be that strong.

Of course there are very strong reasons for calling Koreans the Irish of the east, such as our tenacity for drinking, our colonial history, the fact our country is divided by a significant border, we’re stuck between two significant world powers, we both have a distinct national cuisine, and we’ve a social structure which focuses on both age and gender hierarchies… oh wait forget the other two.

You see, the whole comparison thing between Ireland and Korea seems to be done by someone who sat down with Wikipedia one day and got this notion into their head that Ireland and Korea are very similar. I suppose they are in some respects but in many respects they are far from complimentary. For example if you considered the alcohol consumption aspect you run into problems. Anyone who has ever drank knows that there is an etiquette to drinking, sometimes very formalised and other times apparently informal, but there is always a way to drink. When we think about drinking, in countries that drink a lot, how we drink and what drink is far more important than how much (because we already know that’s a fair amount).

Now if you’ll excuse me if I turn to some reliable Wikipedia statistics. In terms of thirst Ireland and Korea are ranked quite closely together , but you can’t help but notice that Ireland is not the only country on the top half of that list with a dark history linked with its geopolitical situation. Yes, being fond of a drink is a stereotype both countries fall into, but it is by no means an exclusive club, and if anything it hardly characterises the entire culture and people (but in fairness it probably does).

There are of course many similarities between the people of Ireland and Korea. In the same respect, similarities exist across the entire planet and to single them out as unique to Korea and Ireland, or indeed only to Ireland and to Korea would be selling things a little short.

Take for example Italy, or indeed Italians. For the past four weeks I’ve been teaching Italian high-school students in a summmer camp just outside of Dublin. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, and if I do come back to Ireland for the summer I use this work as a means of earning a little pocket money for the adventure. It’s generally good fun, and interesting from a teacher’s perspective to meet students from another country where English is also considered very important for university and employment prospects.

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A building on the university campus where I taught for four weeks under typically Irish summer skies.

First impressions present Italians as completely the opposite as Korean students. They are lively, opinionated, and vocal, very vocal. The stereotype of a Korean high school student is anything but this, and I come across the remnants of their much discussed experience in the university students I teach. They are generally shy, reserved, and for the most part quiet, very quiet.

Now I recall that when I was in university that we were also quiet but that was probably more out of fear that we would be asked a question. We were not afraid that we might get the question wrong, but because we knew we would have no idea of the answer to the question asked. Anyone who ever took a foreign language class in secondary school probably cannot recall the classroom being abuzz with Irish/French/Spanish/German/whatever. I think that this is probably close to the same case with the majority of Korean English language students.

Yes, for a person who goes from teaching very quiet and reserved students to a class of lively and mostly enthusiastic students, with the added benefit of being western (even more western than myself I’d hasten to add) it is easy to offer immediate stark contrasts, many of which are likely to have been formed from well established national stereotypes. I’m sure if I stood at a bar in Itaewon or Haebangchon and professed that in fact Koreans were not that different from Italians, and they were in fact more like Italians than actual Irish, I would be shouted down for such a ludicrous assertion.

Before I go into detail here, please take into account my experiences. Firstly and most importantly, I don’t really know Italians in any way as well as I know Irish or Korean people. Most of my experience with Italians stems from teaching them over a number of summers in fairly relaxed situations, and I’ve never even visited Italy, let alone lived there, like I have being doing in Korea since 2005. I think that it’s also important to explain about the students I have been teaching; for the most part they all appear to be middle class, relatively well schooled teenagers, mostly of high-school age as far as I could discern. With these things in mind please ascribe your own prejudice to the study sample.

Anyway, this isn’t a scientific expose, but more a reflection on my past experience teaching Italians in Dublin on my summer holidays, which may also have some significance as you read this words. I did come across some worthwhile comparisons which allude to national character more so than the demographics and historical comparisons which plague Irish-Korean analysis.

At the top of the pile has to be food. Now don’t expect me to give a foodie’s detailed description of each respective nationality’s cuisine. That’s near impossible for me, for now at least. What is significant is that each country is obsessed with food (yeah I know, what’s the big deal?) but more importantly, with their own national cuisine. It could be reasonably argued that a large portion of each country’s economy is powered by its tenacity for its own cuisine. Ireland, unless you count the local chipper on a weekend night, would not fit in here.

I know how good and how diverse Korean food is, and while it may have its critics there is little doubt in how much Koreans miss Korean food when they leave the country. Yes, we can all poke fun at the flocks of ajjumma with instant noodles and gochujang stuffed into their suitcases as they travel, but can you blame them when much of what they know in terms of food is Korean food (and Chinese take-away). Expecting them to revolutionise over the space of one-flight, probably in a tour group full of similar minded folk, is probably asking to much. Anyway, they’re happy so what does it really matter?

It’s always easy to point the finger at people who do things differently, and especially in Korea where many are particularly reserved. I know that it’s easy to praise younger people who are keen to experience new food from around the world, but again it’s equally easy as one who enjoys variety but dislikes expense to notice that much of the international cuisine enjoyed by many young Koreans is indeed spaghetti with seafood and a cream or tomato sauce, or worse, the evil brunch made up of a sausage, an egg, some salad, and some other concoction. Despite this attempt at snobbery you’ll do well to find Koreans who don’t have a list of Korean dishes they crave after so many days away from a suitable supply, and if all else fails you’re bound to find somewhere to stock up on the always reliable ramyeon. I’d warrant that Italians aren’t that far off, at least the ones I was teaching weren’t.

Now granted that the restaurant in the university they were staying in was far from haute cuisine, which could have influenced their thoughts. but a day didn’t go by without some lamenting for “Italian” pasta, or “Italian” food. Their own food of course, which many will tell is fantastic, and rightly so – much like Korean food – but it still bothers me a little when people who apparently obsess so much over food, when given the opportunity to try something other than the stainless steel served chicken and potato slop they’d been divvied out the first port of call for sustenance in Dublin was either McDonalds or Bugger King.

Travel broadens the mind and when it comes to food this is especially the case. Koreans, in their defence, were not really allowed to travel up until the 1980s, and even then it was not on their own that they all began to encroach on the UNESCO heritage sites of the world. This way of traveling is only slowly leaving the mass conciousness of the the country, and independent travel is becoming a thing, especially for university and post-university aged people who are eager, for the most part, to acquire stronger English and also to have a good time before they end up having to sell their soul to a full-time job.

And I suppose my wonderful Italian students, many of whom had only traveled with their parents (I did a survey) and even then only to neighbouring countries on school excursions or lanugauge exchanges, would be far from an acceptable sample to base my argument on, but I can’t help but find this issue which has been recurring over the past number of years when I have taught Italians in the summer.

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One of my classes of Italian teenagers from all over Italy, with their certificates of completion…and me, grinning stupidly!

The other area which struck me a bit more thunderbolt like, and is something which is certainly a recognisable trait in Korea, and that’s image.

What always struck me is that the youngsters I’ve taught have always been for the most part, despite the bags under their eyes from self-imposed sleep depravation, very well groomed and image conscious. I won’t say whether they were well dressed or not, but they did obviously take the time to wear what were nice clothes and spend some time fixing their hair in the morning. Now they were teenagers so you can’t expect too much variety from their attire, but that being said even though they were away from their parents they didn’t come in with their clothes hanging off them, unwashed and smelly.

I had a conversation about Irish fashion with these students one day and we went on about how Irish people dressed and whether or not we were considered stylish or not. The general consensus was that it was hard to know because they hadn’t seen too many Irish people, and when they were in Dublin it was hard to know who was Irish and who wasn’t. I told them next time just listen to them.

The conversation developed over the coming days as I tried to get more information from them on their experiences. It turned out that they were impressed by Irish dress sense (not style or fashion mind you). In Italy, I was told, people always had to take into consideration their appearance among others. That their look was always being scrutinised, and that there were in fact many ways to dress in Italy which were socially unacceptable, especially for women. Does this sound familiar to my readers from Korea?

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My final class of Italian teenagers before they packed their bags and headed back to Italy.

I told them that this was also the case in Korea and I gave them some examples, such as keeping shoulders covered, not showing too much skin or clevage, and some others. These youngs adults explained to me that they were impressed by the general social acceptance of one’s own way of dressing. I explained that sure enough plenty of people probably thought they were stupid looking or whatever, but they empathised that this did not stop them wearing what they wore, and it was accepted that this is how some people dressed in public.

I explained to the Italian students, as I was a little misled at first, that don’t be put off by the people on the street who seem scruffy and who don’t apply as much time in the mirror as they may, they probably spent just as much time making sure they looked suitably unwashed. They understood this, but what was important was that they were allowed to do this.

I know that Herself has expressed the same feelings about living in Ireland also. She enjoys being in Ireland because there is less pressure to dress a particular way, and to meet a certain standard. This is not to say that she dresses less fashionably or doesn’t apply herself with as much care, it’s just that she has more options in the wardrobe than she would have in Korea. Of course image is important for every country, and Ireland is definitely the case.

I found this to be, well honestly, fantastic from an Irish perspective. I don’t think the Irish go out and win too many acclaims from the armchair fashionistas of the world, but too me this seemed to be something to be proud of. Now, I’m sure if they were in another part of Ireland this idea would be slightly less obvious, but still the more I think about it the more likely it is the case….maybe.

I know that in this rather drawn out comparison between Korea and Italy may seem to have holes all over it, and I don’t doubt that my arguments and assertions here are quite week. Let me reiterate, they are mere observations, and I hope when you read this, like when you read anything else I read, it gives you the inclination to search around a little more to find another opinion.

What I will assert though, to conclude, is that if anything my loose comparison here should be seen as a way of firstly drawing attention to the ridiculous notion that two countries would be so alike as to be compared as twins. But more importantly I hope that I can give you a decent example of how similar every human being is, and that despite thousands of miles seperating us our different upbringings and cultures do have similarities which are indistinguishable, and even when that is not the case, the differences are what make being a person interesting. In the end let us forget that all our blood is red.

Driving, it’s a Lifestyle Choice


Life, regardless of where you live, is a bit like driving: it doesn’t matter how careless and scary the fella in front of you is, you still have deal with whatever situation is put before you otherwise there’s a good chance you could end up in hospital (and let’s face it, even if the insurance does pay, you could be proper fucked).

A car. You can drive this.

It all boils down to this – so what if someone is doing something you disagree with as you pass them on the street or wherever, it’s likely that there is very little that you can do about them other than get annoyed and go on about your day, red in the face from whatever it is that this person did. You could possibly do something about it, like stand over and explain to them the error of their ways, however it’s likely you won’t (and I know I don’t – I’m not up on a high horse here), and I imagine most people sit around chewing wasps or whatever until they find something else that bothers them.  What does this do? Nothing. I say, shut up, deal with it, then get back on with your own life because there’s more important things to be doing that bitching about some useless strangers inability to function inside a prescribed (ha) social structure.

Cross at your peril (I mean it)!

I do my best to keep this in mind whenever I step outside the front door, because getting angry and trying to explain why a person or something happens doesn’t make it any better. Dealing with the situation where I come out on the best possible footing (unscarred) is always my first priority, and keeping my blood pressure as low as possible in the process is my second. Still, I’m no angel. Driving doesn’t help.

Gangnam traffic (fortunately I resisted the urge to caption it Gangnam s**** traffic)

There’s a lot of complaint out there in the Korea waeg universe. People complaining about racism, job insecurity and dodgy bosses, the weather, the food, the wrong sized shoes…well all I can say to most people is, hell at least you don’t drive here.

And yes, all these things are probably worse than driving but they’re avoidable (ignore racism and get on with your day, quit your shit job an get a better one, get an air conditioner/heater/raincoat, eat food you like, buy shoes from wherever they do fit, or just learn to flow), just as much as driving is avoidable, but it’s a lifestyle choice. I choose to drive because it makes my life here easier, and believe me, all the other complaints I listed above, I learned to deal with them also.

Another fuckin’ hero without a helmet on his scooter in Gangnam.

As soon as you get into a car here, or anywhere in fact, the social contract changes and all of a sudden your usual eye-contact polite smile and nod method of getting on with life is obscured by the windscreen so that means the rules go out the window…or something to that effect…and even if you’re a nice guy you still have to be a dick otherwise people are going to be stepping all over you for the rest of your life, y’here?