The Fragmentation of Self(ie) in Everyday Life

Mirrors

This is the most unoriginal photograph in Gangneung. Every weekend hundreds of tourists show up in Wolhwa Park to eat fried chicken, stuffed dumplings (for which there are massive queues), squid ink ice cream (lines are shorter for this place), and so on. Some restaurant/cafe/takeaway place in the market area put these mirrors on their exterior wall to set them apart from all the other shops. I made this photo very early in the morning before the crowds showed up and I thought it was a clever self-portrait until I realised a bit later that these mirrors probably have their own hashtag on Instagram and about half the young women of Korea and their boyfriends have stood where I stood to make the same photo. My only consolation is that maybe my framing is a bit better than theirs . . . . And it’s black and white, so . . . Art!

Fiddly-Dee

The biggest complaints against digital cameras are their hyper-realistic, artless rendering of a scene, the often true-to-life but boring colours, and the menus that take so much time to change when out making photos. Some cameras have overcome the first two faults, and I hold up the Fujifilm X-T3 as an example of a camera that makes good looking photographs right out of the box. Unfortunately, there are a lot of buttons and menu items that can make the camera seem more like an electronic torture device than a camera. Fujifilm introduced the Q button on their camera bodies to put commonly used menu items in one convenient place, but it’s still a menu that you have to navigate through to change film simulations, image quality, tones, and so on.

But Fujifilm gives photographers the ability to customise the many buttons and dials on the camera. A few days ago I sat down and organised the functions of all the buttons on the body. Changes to ‘film’ are now all on the back where you would once insert a film cartridge, and less often used but important functions I assigned to the slightly harder to reach buttons near the top of the camera or the front.

There is only one function button on the front of the camera and I assigned it to turn on the self timer, where it traditionally is on a mechanical camera body. Muscle memory often brings my pointer finger there when I need to delay the shutter release.

The function button on the top of the camera is the only one actually marked ‘function’ and is the hardest to reach on the camera body because it’s in the tight space between the shutter speed dial and the exposure compensation dial. I’ve assigned this to turn off/on face detection. I usually leave this off unless I’m in point-and-shoot mode. Otherwise, the wide autofocus mode can be fooled by things that look like eyes, such as two windows in a building.

I wanted to assign something to do with exposure to the AE-L button next to the viewfinder and settled on the RGB histogram. I normally have a small, unobtrusive histogram on in the viewfinder display but sometimes I like to turn on the larger one to see if all channels are within the range of the camera’s sensor. I don’t use it that much, which is why I assigned it to a slightly difficult button that requires a stretch of the thumb to reach.

To the AF-L button I assigned AF mode; Single Point, Zone, Wide, and All. I don’t quite understand what Zone focusing is and my camera isn’t set up to take advantage of the All function. From what I remember from the user manual, All allows you to quickly change from one AF mode to another with a command dial, but I can’t be arsed to find out how to use it that way. Anyway, I don’t need it. I only change from single point autofocus to wide autofocus when I’m chasing the cat or I’ve set up the camera to point-and-shoot mode.

The directional pad on the back of the camera sits within easy reach of my thumb and that’s where I assigned frequently used functions that change the look of my photographs. Pressing the left button changes the film simulation; pressing the top button changes the image size (3:2, 16:9, 1:1); the right button changes the grain effect; and the bottom button changes the colour chrome effect.

That’s all fine and dandy, but sadly Highlight Tone and Shadow Tone (i.e. contrast) can’t be added to any buttons, which is an annoyance. I put them in the top row of the Q menu for faster access, but I wish there was a way I could switch them more quickly using dedicated buttons. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I generally leave both of those settings at 0 anyway.

I am happy with my camera setup because (almost) everything I need to change is on a button and I don’t need to go through menus when I’m making photographs. Newer Fujifilm cameras seem to be losing the direction pad, which is a shame. Maybe Fuji think that the Q menu is good enough for changing settings quickly. I disagree, but I’m not on the committee that makes these decisions . . . .

Black and White and Colour

Assembly Area, Seongsan, 2019
7-11 Picnic Table, Seongsan, 2019

The rain stopped early in the morning of September 12th, so I climbed across my bike and went for a ride as far as Seongsan. It was the usual route through Geumsan and then to the 7-11 at the end of town for a tin of mocha coffee and a little rest. I set the camera for black and white, but it turned out that colour was better for some of the photos I made that morning.

Black and white was the better choice for the first photo because the scene was more or less monochrome anyway. I thought there was a building going up behind these fences and gate, but the sign says it’s an assembly area. Whatever that means. Over the top of the fence I could see some large metal structures that looked like they might be parts of a bridge or another large infrastructure project.

I made the second photo because I liked the deep green of the plant and the slightly orange-ish brown of the picnic table. I usually make a couple of photos of the picnic tables and flower pots when I stop for my tin of coffee. The owner probably thinks I’m mad. But maybe doesn’t care as long as he makes 900 Won every time I drop by.

From the Archive: Hahoe Mask Dance Festival

I am still going through the photo archive on my hard drive, working my way from older photos to the present day. I’m now at 2006. Although I had good cameras at the time (Contax 645, Nikon D70, Nikon FM3a), I didn’t have much skill because there is almost nothing worth sharing from that period. There are many photos of family and friends thanks to the zero(?) cost of digital photography though, so that’s good.

One photo worth sharing was made when I travelled to the city of Andong with my photo class to the see the Hahoe Mask Dance Festival. I wasn’t especially interested in the dances because I saw them many times when I lived in Andong. And I don’t like dancing that much. But the festival had an area where you could buy food, local products, souvenirs, and even handcrafted traditional masks.

Mask Carving, Hahoe Mask Dance Festival, Andong. 2005

This was the only photo I thought was worth keeping from the day. I can’t be certain, but I think I was using an FM3a and the film was probably Ilford Delta 400.

Rice Paddy Irrigation Canal

Rice Paddy and Irrigation Canal, Geumsan

One of my early morning bicycle routes takes me through the rice paddies and fields of Geumsan Village. At 6:30 the light is soft and the absence of cars makes the ride peaceful. Autumn is an especially nice time to be out in the countryside because of the beautiful golden rice fields. “Geumsan” means “Golden Mountain”, but I think the village could well have been named “Golden Fields”.

Harvest time is coming soon and the fields will be brown and lifeless afterwards. Korea has very little snow so the landscape is bleak during all the winter months. I might switch to black and white photography for my morning rides when the cold weather begins because the dull colours of the hills and fields will add nothing to my photographs.

Two Photos From a Morning Bicycle Ride

Seongsan Intersection

I’ve possibly mentioned in the past that when I ride to Seongsan, I stop at the 7-11 at the far end of town. Sometimes I make photos of my camera bag and flower pots while drinking a tin of coffee, and sometimes I make a photo of this jumble of utility poles, wires, and cars. I did a decent job of the framing and composition on this day.

Geumsan

A traditional Korean home dwarfed by the huge overpass that carries an expressway over the valley. I never hear noise from it when I’m around there, so I think the soundproofing must be good. Still, I think I might feel nervous if I lived underneath such a large structure.

The Old Man and the Statue

Wolhwa Park Coffee Girl

I was downtown early one morning and I set up the camera on a tripod to make a photo of this statue. Koreans are generally very polite about photography and will wait for you to make a photo before passing in front of the camera. Or they will go around so they don’t disturb you. I had my focus and exposure checked and was about to press the shutter release button when this man walked into the frame and sat down on the bench. Maybe he’s tired and really needs a sit-down, I thought to myself, and decided to wait until he moved on. He looked at me, pointed at the statue, and shook a finger to indicate that I shouldn’t make a photo of the statue. I immediately thought of the Comfort Woman Statue in Seoul and was worried that this guy thought this was a similar statue and I was insulting Korean history or something. In other words, I thought he was a loony and I should get away as quickly as possible. But then he pointed to the statue and himself and indicated that I should make a photo of them together. I nodded and he put his arm around the statue. I made the photo and said, “Okay, it’s done.” He got up and started to walk away. I asked him if he would like to see the photo. He came over and had a look at the screen but seemed very uninterested in the results. He didn’t ask for a copy or anything. Nor did he smile, which worried me a bit. He walked off and I packed up my kit and left the area.
I guess I got an interesting experience, but I felt nervous and I’d rather not run into people like that if I can help it.

Kodak Portra 400 + Nikon F6

You can tell when a roll of film has been in a camera for a while because of the different subjects in the photographs. A film lab owner once complained to me that some people made so few photos that there were fours seasons on one roll. And that was before digital cameras and smart phones.
There is only one season on the roll of Portra 400 I used last month, but there was definitely a variety of scenes. WARNING! A few of them are disturbing.

Electric Meters, Downtown Gangneung

This is probably just disturbing to electricians and safety inspectors.

No Parking, Downtown Gangneung

This is disturbing to pedestrians and cyclists. I included the ‘R’ in the top left sign reading ‘WONDER’ when I made the photo, but it was cut by the lab. Grrr . . . . The yellow writing on the pavement says ‘tow zone’.

Building Jumble, Downtown Gangneung

Disturbing to architects? But fun for photographers.

Here are the disturbing photos I mentioned in the introduction. This is a water deer, probably killed by one of the speeding cars that drive madly over the blind hill on this road. There are many deer in the outskirts of Gangneung, but this ‘sabre-toothed’ deer is fairly uncommon. Poor bugger. Probably killed by some arsehole checking his phone messages while driving.

Friends Talking, Wolhwa Bridge

I made this photo while I was waiting for these two men to leave so I could set up my tripod and camera.

Island in Namdae River, Gangneung

The men eventually moved on and I started making photos of this island.

Island in Namdae River, Gangneung

I like the reflections of the apartments in the water.

Backstreet Neighbourhood, Gangneung

The final photo of this post was made at one end of the Wolhwa bridge. I waited around and made a number of frames but only this one was presentable. People were either walking too quickly, wearing ugly clothes, or weren’t walking close enough to the house wall. I should probably make these photos while I can, because City Hall might have plans to raze this area and make more space for coffee shops . . . .