Alley Art

Some neighbourhoods have recently been trying to brighten up their alleyways. Usually in areas where tourists are wandering away from the coffee shops and beaches to explore the narrow lanes. I often wander into the narrow streets and spaces between buildings to get away from the madding crowd.

Myeongju Neighbourhood

A downtown neighbourhood called Myeongju started its rejuvenation some years ago with the conversion of a church to a theatre and performance centre. Then came the remodelling of nearby old houses into coffee shops. Some private houses even tore down their high, crumbling garden walls and planted grass and flowers to brighten up the neighbourhood. Most recently, an area on the fringes of the neighbourhood painted parts of the alley walls in rainbow colours. The writing above says, “Myeongju Rainbow Covered Streets”. Out of frame are the names of the local residents who contributed to the project.

Myeongju Neighbourhood

This drain pipe is cleverly disguised as the centre of a flower. Loose stones around the alley are painted in bright colours.

I once joined a cult to paint walls in knackered neighbourhoods. Well, not exactly. I wrote it like that for fun and shock value. What happened was, I was in a supermarket trying to choose some tea when a lady approached me and asked if I spoke Korean. Then she asked if I would be interested in helping to brighten up some poorer neighbourhoods by painting alley walls. As a hater of the “grey is okay” city aesthetic, I certainly was interested and we exchanged contact information. Some time later the lady rang me and I met up with her and about a dozen other people in a neighbourhood not far from my house. It turned out that they were from the Shincheonji Church, a group previously mistrusted by the public and now reviled as the cult (a professor of religious studies at university once told our class that a cult is any group mainstream Christians don’t like) responsible for the first wave of covid infections in Korea. But I met them long before the covid business. Anyway, nobody mentioned God or Jesus to me and they were all very pleasant people. I enjoyed my time adding colour to the neighbourhood and I got a couple of free lunches out of it.

But I digress. Another neighbourhood dolling itself up for visitors to Gangneung is Anmok, probably the most famous tourist area in Gangneung because of its beaches and coffee shops that overlook the sea. Many of the alley walls were whitewashed and painted with scenes of fish several years ago, but in the last few months someone has painted the alley pavement.

Anmok

When I first came across these lines I thought that some businesses had put them there to lead customers to lodging houses or restaurants, but there were no signs explaining the colours and they didn’t seem to have any particular starting place or destination. I guess they are just there to look nice.

Downtown?

It’s great that some neighbourhoods are trying to spruce themselves up a bit. Even a simple coat of paint over breeze blocks and concrete can make alleys much nicer places to walk through. I can’t go around with a bucket of paint trying to beautify the city (unless I join another cult), but I try to make the lanes and ugly architecture at least pleasing to look at in photographs by careful framing. You might not think the curled wire photo above is interesting or good, but it’s probably not making you feel miserable like a walk through that alley might.

From the Archive: Woman Riding Bicycle Past Tents

Woman Riding Through Dano Festival Tents.
Dano Festival Grounds, 2016

I may have shared this photograph on my old blog some years ago, but I can’t remember so I’m sharing it again as I organise my old photos.

Dano has been celebrated in Korea for a couple of thousand years and then even earlier in China. It has a thousand year history here in Gangneung and this city’s festival was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The main event of Dano is a shamanistic ritual thanking the sky deity once the fields have been sown in spring. Gangneung might be the only place where these rituals are still carried out. What mostly happens during Dano is a week-long market where people sell bed clothes, clothes, household goods, cheap trinkets, and food. Recently there have been tents set up by people from other countries selling things from their homelands.

I dislike festival crowds and so I avoided going there after I visited once or twice. Now and then I will visit very early in the morning to see if I can make some photos of the tents and empty spaces. I saw this lady coming from some distance so I composed and waited for her to come into frame. Click.

Cart, Jumunjin

I don’t think I shared this photo from 2017 on my blog back in 2017. Certainly not in its present state. I recently rediscovered it while organising my photo collection and trimmed a bit of ugly from the top to give the picture a minimalist look.

Cart next to white house

I made this photo in a hill neighbourhood of Jumunjin. The houses there are so close together that generally there is only enough room for a single person to squeeze between the houses and their enclosing concrete walls. Most of the homes have no road access at all and residents need to walk through a maze of alleys to get to a single lane road. It’s quite a poor neighbourhood, but the council is sprucing the area up by painting some of the alley walls and hanging paintings to help the neighbourhood look less miserable.
The above scene no longer exists. The cart is gone and there is some fire-fighting equipment up against the wall. I’m glad I was able to get the scene before it changed.