It`s that time of year when photographers, or creatives in general, reflect on the past year of their work. Because of the relationship between photography and social media, it`s relatively easy to sit down, compile a list of your favourite photographs of the year and present it in a clear, yet concise manner. This is just such a blog post. I thought I`d share my thoughts on each photograph too. I promise I`ll try and keep it short and sweet, however.
Why make such a list?
I`ve recently became a devotee of probing one’s own photographs after they`ve been made. I believe there`s lots to be learnt through this process. Am I progressing? Do I detect a pattern in my approach to certain images? Is that pattern detrimental to the future of my development? How can I add more depth to my photographs? Do I still like the image the same as when I first made it? Am I too emotionally connected to some photographs, thus blinding me to repetitive mistakes? The list goes on.
How did these images make the list?
I could have gone for the sterile approach of only choosing my top images that possessed the highest aesthetics or technical qualities (for example, I get a lot of flak for underexposing my images). Instead, this list was compiled from a more personal origin. I remember thinking, feeling or doing something at the time when the photograph was exposed.
I enjoy walking and observing things happening around me. It reminds me of my freedom. I never knew how much I enjoyed walking before arriving in South Korea. I come from a country where there is very little freedom or opportunity to just walk nonchalantly without looking over your shoulder (crime is unfortunately an issue). Hence, I now take full pleasure documenting what is happening around me or I’ll wait somewhere in anticipation for something to happen.
Whenever it starts snowing, the first thing I reach for is my camera. It’s interesting to see how people respond to nature’s elements. This intersection is a minute from my apartment. It started snowing heavily that afternoon and I ran out to see what I could get. My town is usually very busy but since it started snowing, people stayed indoors in nearby cafes and just watched as it came down. This girl ran across the street as if fire was falling from the sky. I felt as if I were standing in a giant snow globe. If you haven`t yet experienced snow, it`s quite eerie when it falls. You can feel it falling but there`s no sound. The only sound you`re able to hear is when it hits your jacket on your shoulders. Black and white was the flavour of the day because I didn`t want colour to distract from the sheer amount of snowfall I wanted to show.
You`ll soon see a pattern with the street photographs in this list. In each of them, nature plays quite a strong role. This image is no different. This is the Gyeongchun subway line. It connects Seoul and Chuncheon city. It`s a very scenic ride. I remember having difficulty sleeping on this Sunday morning and decided to just take the train with no destination in mind. I wrote more about it here. I used to be a high school teacher so I have a fairly good idea how the youth of South Korea see life and the occasional sense of hopelessness they feel about their future. This reflection went into the creation of this image. I also remember thinking: “this damn pole!” But looking back now, maybe it acts as symbolism (see what I mean about probing your own images?)
While we`re on the topic of hopelessness and feeling trapped. I genuinely feel sorry for suits (politically incorrect term for office workers). They work insane hours, seldom get paid overtime, and work in an environment where communication flows from the top to bottom. They very often have to endure verbal abuse from the top and if they’re a woman the list above is even longer. I look at them in the subway sometimes and can`t help but feel sorry for the dudes sometimes. They seem spiritually handicapped in a way. One could think that this is possibly what 2016 would look like if it were an image. Of course it isn’t, though! This image isn`t nearly as messed up as what 2016 actually was for many people around the world.
It isn`t all doom and gloom. Darkness is necessary for beauty to be prominent. Beauty in this case would be in the form of colour, rain, street lights and a moment between two people. There`s something about rain that I cannot articulate well enough using words. For this reason, I enjoy shooting in the rain. It`s even better if it`s at night, as is clearly evident here.
Continuing with moments. I take the train to work every morning so I see so many different people on a daily basis. I`ve recently made a habit of holding my camera in my hand for 80% of the journey. I use the Fujifilm X100T for daily shooting. I literally shoot everyday because I`m currently doing a 365 project. You`re welcome to have a look at my progress here. Back to the lollipop couple. These two lovebirds where just having this moment and I thought it was cute as hell. Who does this? Obviously they do.
2016 was the year for protests in South Korea. Long story short, the South Korean president was involved in a scandal whereby she allowed a long time friend and daughter of a cult leader to tamper with state matters. Korean society obviously wasn`t in favour of this and this led to protests demanding her immediate resignation. What you`re seeing here is a man standing in front of a fairly large police station and demanding to speak to a high ranking police officer. Apparently the protest organisers obtained the legal permission to march near to the presidential residence, but the police force illegally erected a blockade that prevented the protest from going anywhere near the presidential residence. This one man took it upon himself to find answers. Silly or very courageous? It was quite something to observe his resolve. That much is certain.
And then there`s this guy. He had/has a beautiful soul. I am currently also involved in another project with a fellow photographer and friend, Dylan Goldby. We both share a common interest in documenting/photographing the unique men of the greater Jongno district here in Seoul. A dedicated blog post is necessary to fully explain our reasons for wanting to document these men. That will certainly be coming soon. To summarise for now, we feel these men possess a distinct character that is unique only to this district and will unfortunately fade after their passing. Back to this gentleman. I remember looking at him and deducing that he has one of those faces that constantly smiles. His entire demeanour was so inviting, the kind of man that would share many stories over a few drinks. How do I suspect this? A man who takes rubber gloves out from his pants pockets, puts them on, rests a broomstick over his shoulder, raises his left arm in a gesture of strength and genuinely laughs at the whole moment, without me suggesting anything, is someone who has the ability to have impact in other people`s lives. I think there is no better reason to create a portrait of someone.
Portraits of a different kind
This year I was able to explore portraits more creatively. I learnt a lot in this endeavour, most of it being the mental processes leading up to the creation. The act of feeling inspired, envisioning and conceptualising is not a simple one. Thankfully I had the opportunity to work with these wonderful ladies this year.
Thanks for having a look at part 1 of my top 20 photographs of 2016. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon this week.