Galleries and Exhibitions

In today’s digital age and the constant go, go, go lifestyle that has dominated urban living all around the world, it’s easy to forget to stop for a minute and take time for yourself.

As a photographer and an artist, a gallery or exhibition can easily become your amusement park, your wilderness, your library, your school all rolled into one.

As computer screens become bigger with higher resolution, it can very easily become your window to the world. For me as well. A few years I started to really start to study some of photography’s legends. I’d read blog posts about them, I’d watch old documentaries on YouTube about them. I’d look at their photographs all without leaving the comforts of my home office.

Something happened.

But before we get into that I should preface this with:

I love art galleries. I enjoy going to a gallery to see some of the master painters: Matisse, VanGogh, Dali, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Delacroix just to name a few. I had, at the recommendation of my art history professor, to avoid going to the Louvre, and go to the Musée d’Orsay instead. I loved it. I was also there at a time that wasn’t over run with people. So when a Musée d’Orsay exhibition came to Seoul, it didn’t take much convincing to go.

Photography museums and exhibitions were not as accessible. So when I found that there would be an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, (the photographer I look up to the most) in Seoul, I knew I had to go, and the 3.5 hour drive to get to Seoul wasn’t going to be a factor at all.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Saint Lazare station. 1932

This is where it happened… At the Dongdaemun Design Plaza… An epiphany of sorts. I had always respected and at times been in awe of the paintings that hung in a museum.

Edouard ManetLe déjeuner sur l’herbeen 1863huile sur toile H. 207,0 ; L. 265,0 cm.
@ avec cadre H. 243,5 ; L. 305 cm
musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
©photo musée d’Orsay / rmn

I still remember my jaw literally dropping when I saw  Édouard Manet’s – “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” hanging at Musée d’Orsay. We had studied it in class only weeks before I visited, so it was still fresh in my mind. I saw it in class both on the projection screen and in the textbook. Nothing prepared me for its sheer size of 5.4912 square metres.

The ability to just stand there with the photograph in front of me, no links or web browser tabs, just me and the photograph. It was a calming effect, but it also brought with it a desire to soak up the entire photograph. Not just look at it and walk to the next one. Or scroll down as would be the case in Instagram. The photos were no larger than the full screen that I could produce in my office on my desktop, in fact many of them were smaller. There was just a completely different feeling involved with a physical photograph.

It inspired me like nothing else. I left the exhibition a few hours later with my camera in tow and changed the in camera settings to shoot only in black and white. Before that exhibition, I wasn’t a fan of black and white photos at all. I needed colour. I’d almost go so far as to say I hated black and white photos, and I don’t hate much in this world. Strongly dislike, yes, but hate, no. It single handedly showed me the path to appreciating and enjoying black and white photography.

Exhibitions don’t have to be entirely a visit only excursion. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have my photographs included in a number of fabulous exhibitions all over South Korea as well as Japan.

Which will lead us to our next issue. Thanks for reading.

Take it Inside

As many, if not everyone, has heard by now, a highly contagious virus is making its way around the globe seemingly faster than light itself. Here in South Korea, the number of cases continue to balloon not only daily, but hourly.

One thing that this temporary (hopefully) lifestyle change has brought with it, is the reduction in the amount of time that I would normally spend outside exploring. Luckily, at the time of this post, there have been no confirmed cases in my city, although they did track one person through a nearby subway station. (Yes, track. There is a website that posts the known travel paths of some confirmed patients before they knew they had the virus.) So, as a nature/travel photographer the question became what could I do with my time if I’m not going to be outside.

When you sit down and plan it out, there are a number of things that will easily fill a day.

Planning

One thing that is quite important as a photographer is being able to recognize your weaknesses. Having no traditional formal training in photography, I have a few.

YouTube videos, these days, play a huge role in my learning. I have learned to be careful when I use the term “self taught”. Many people tend to use the term to say that they didn’t go to a college or university photography programme, like myself. However, as I was growing up, I read books and magazines (the Internet was still very, very young at the time) to learn techniques, what f-stops were, lens distortions and how to work with them, etc. All of these books and articles were written by people, many of whom did go through formal training. It is these authors that taught me. There may have been more experimentation on my part as I physically tried to understand what they had written. But make no mistake I didn’t pick up a camera and figure out everything without any help. They were my teachers.

One thing I think that traditional formal training would have helped me immensely is lighting. Being able to handle and physically set up strobes and soft boxes in a controlled environment with supervision is something I wish I had experienced. Throughout my entire life with a camera in my hands, I’ve relied on natural lighting. I didn’t even start using reflectors or diffusers until fairly recently (relatively speaking). One of my first purchases after my first digital camera was a big powerful speed light. One that I’ve never really learned how to use.

Task #1

Learning how to use my speed light and how to light still life or products in a mini studio.

I started by using the soft box that my wife had given me years ago as a gift along with my one speed light. I started experimenting with where to position the light and how to light whatever object I could find around the house.

This also lead to watching a lot more videos on how to use artificial lighting.

Task #2

Studio Design

After editing some of the shots, I started to see some more possibilities. It also got me thinking about the studios that these lighting videos were being shot in, and their lighting set ups and the similarities. This lead to me redesigning my office. I built a track that runs from one side of the room to the other and attached my speed light to it. I also attached a diffuser to the rail so it could slide into the position and angle that I wanted.

Task #3

Re-editing

It is also a great time to go back through the archives. There are 4 things I like to so when I go back through the archives.

  1. Look back at some of the iffy files that I had thought I would go back and edit at a later date.
  2. Delete files that I thought I might fix, but have come to the realization that they will never get edited.
  3. Edit the iffy files that made the second cut.
  4. Re-edit files that had already made the cut, but using new techniques or since it’s a new day a new artistic outlook on that file. *

*There was one photo in particular that when I edited I wasn’t sure which I had liked better, the warm white balance or the cool white balance. Your vision can change from day to day.

By watching editing videos, (as “photoshopping” is still pretty new to myself as well) I learn different ways of doing things. I watched a video earlier today that even showed a whole new (to me) artistic angle to take with the photos.

Task #4

Website Updates

This is also a great time to keep up with website and blog updates. Keeping a (regular) blog in the past was something that was extremely difficult for me. My brain tends to run at 1000 km/h most of the time (hence the importance of my @koreantemples Instagram account to help me slow down). The one thing that I’ve learned while writing articles for Wikitree.us a few years ago, and last year while I was writing the textbook, is that I like writing. It’s something that I know I have time to do regardless of how busy my schedule is.

Task #5

Looking for Work

With my newly found love of writing along with my photography, this inside time has also allowed me to focus on networking and writing proposals to magazines and publishers. My full time elementary teaching contract has just finished and I was going to take this time to build my photography business. There are a whole lot of steps to take and hard work before it gets off the ground. I’m going to try my best to make it work.

So there we have it. 5 tasks that easily fill up a 10-12 hour day. Many times, each one of these days will only be filled with 2 or 3 of these 5 tasks.

2019

2019 has come and gone. We’re over a week into 2020 and I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen anyone make use of the myriad of 20/20 possibilities other than the Barbra Walters one. I suppose they’re waiting until they do their year end reviews of this year. So be forewarned: You will be inundated with a variation of “My year in review: Hindsight is 20/20”.

After reading my friends’ and colleagues’ blogs on their 2019 I got caught up in the wave. Roy Cruz, an ex-pat from the Philippines, a wonderful person and photographer (I’m probably forgetting bass player, as well.) has been using a format where he chooses his personal top 10. He takes it a wonderful step further and includes the camera, lens, and setting that was used for each photograph. He then writes a paragraph telling of the story behind each photograph.

Jason Teale is a fellow Canadian ex-pat, an awesome photographer and cinematographer. (If you don’t know what that is, click on the link and prepare for your mind to be blown.) I’m honoured to be able to call him a friend. He has done such amazing work as you’ve seen, but also the behind the scenes within the ex-pat photography circles here in South Korea. Whenever I need advice on something, he’s the first person I contact, and he’s always helping out the best he can. He puts photowalks together, Facebook groups together, and a website for other ex-pats who live or want to visit Ulsan, the city he’s called home for the past 15+ years. He offers online teaching and tutorials for photography and cinematography. Please do check out his page.

Jason, inspired by Roy, did a take on his top 9. He did an awesome job by giving an insight to his thought process behind each of the photographs which is awesome. When all of the “beginner” books and articles started to blur themselves into one another and no matter who I read, it felt like they were all saying the same thing, I wanted something else to help me further along the line. I wanted to know the thought process and what was going through the mind of the photographer when they decided to take that photograph- why they took that photo, not just how they got the photograph. This is what Jason has done and it’s brilliant.

This inspired me to do one as well.

I will give another long winded warning: During his time as a magazine mogul, David DuChemin in his interview sections would ask the photographer if he or she planned their shot or did they shoot primarily intuitive. That was the first I had ever come across that type of distinction, and it made a lot more sense to me and helped me understand where my mind was. It made me realize that I shot intuitively which is why it’s been so difficult to satisfy that need for the next step in my progress after the beginner books. So I apologize if the explanations are a little short of spectacular. (It did make a programme director upset once, which is a post for another day.)

For those who follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you are probably aware that I posted the “Best Nine” from each of my 4 Instagram accounts. This post I will look at my “main” account.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that I had only posted 97 photographs in the year. In this day and age, that number is far too low, and I apologize. I’ll try to do better in 2020. What makes it even more sad is that 33% of these photos weren’t taken in 2019.

This green tea photo was from my first trip to Boseong with my D50 during the Green tea Festival in the spring of 2006. One of the first, if not the first photo I was able to get a little fog. I liked the freshness of this; the green, the blossoms, and the fog. Enough to make you think it was about 6am? I still shake my head today that this was at 2:30 pm.

This one, although I didn’t post it until January 2, 2019, was the final sunset of 2018 from Incheon overlooking the Yellow Sea. After 8 years of living on the east coast, it was nice to live a little closer to the west coast for the opportunity to capture some unblocked (by mountains) sunsets.

This next one was from the first week of January. I had worked a camp in the back hills of Yangju, and as I drove to the camp, to my surprise, was a Buddhist temple. It was still relatively small compared to many others I had seen, but this one had a building with a gold dome, something I had never seen. They were in the process of building the temple’s grounds and even dropping by yesterday, there is a lot of work to be done. These 3 statues have been moved to a more permanent location. I liked the simplicity of this angle and felt it deserving of a black and white transformation.

I can’t remember why I was downtown Seoul so early in the morning on this day. It’s possible I was in signing up for my Korean class. Even though this is 10:10 in the morning, you’d never guess that this is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city. This is Insadong, one of the most popular tourist areas. Generally this place is literally shoulder to shoulder full of people. I love the peace of an early morning city.

This next one, is a cinemagraph. You can’t see it here, but if you click on the image it will take you to my Flixel account where all of my cinemagraphs are shown. I wasn’t a lover of oysters – well any seafood for that matter – before I met my wife, a pescatarian. We came to this area for the lunar new year with her family because it’s a famous oyster area. It was so good that we came back a couple of weeks later by ourselves and turned it into a bit of a photography day trip. Being on the west coast again, a chance to get that pesky sunset.

This was also the time of year my professional life just got a whole lot busier…

As said, my professional life got a lot busier than I ever thought it would, meaning that it took more time than I thought it might. But there’s one time of year I have to get out and get something. Fast forward 3 months into May and Buddha’s birthday. It’s one of the most colourful times of the year. The temples themselves are painted with a wide range of colour, add the colours of the lanterns and pow! I found 2 temples hiding, buried in the hills not far from my last home. This temple had set cloth lanterns, something I hadn’t seen before. They are usually paper. These lanterns were awesome. The temple itself, other than the huge golden Buddha it had for a roof, was actually underwhelming, but these lanterns… I coupled this with one of my favourite things to do… shoot into the sun with some flares in the lens, something that my 30 and 40 year old lenses do nicely.

This next photo was a cinemagraph as well. To see it in action, click on the image to take you back to my Flixel account. This was the same day, just a little earlier than the previous image. This temple is just up the road from the other one. This one was a more traditional style temple but with much fewer buildings. I liked the lines and how the lanterns with their shadows formed a triangle on the building. There was a nice breeze as well, which made me get my tripod out of the car to allow me to film it to make the cinemagraph.

Photography is a funny animal, really. I was exploring the back alleys around Insadong, that popular tourist destination, looking for some inspiration. With this image, I don’t remember posting it, let alone taking it. I remember another photo that I took on the same exploration that day, but this one… But here it is… one of the most popular “by Instagram standards”, in fact it garnered the second most number of likes of the year. I can’t even find it in my archives. I have a funny feeling that this image, too, wasn’t taken in 2019, but clearly the one that I posted in 2019 and only 2019. Funny enough it was the most commented photo as well.

Later in the year, after my workload had calmed down, I went out looking to practice tourism portraits. I’m getting better, but my photos of people are generally pretty bad. It’s something I know and trying to change knowing that I am looking to make photography my full time career come March of this year. I would stop random people at various tourist areas in Seoul and ask if they would pose for me to help me practise and in return I would send them fully retouched and finished photos of their trip. These two were a father and daughter. She had been living in Korea for sometime and her father had come to visit from Malaysia. After posting it, it (for me) blew up and is by far the #1 like getting photo I have on Instagram. She had given me her Instagram name to send the photo to, so I visited her profile and found out that she’s a pretty big deal in Malaysia promoting Muslim women’s rights and peace.

So there you have it. I try not to have any favourite photos. I am a huge fan of John Stanmeyer, and his reasonings for not having a favourite photo really hit home to me and make 100% sense. (Another blog post for the future.) But I will admit that with these “Best Nine” things, I’m a little disappointed when certain images don’t make it. Which leads me to another problem to solve as I enter photography full-time: finding out the times and hashtags that will allow for the maximum viewership.

I’ll leave you with one of those images. Thanks for reading and let’s stay in touch for 2020 and let’s make it “Foresight is 20/20”.