What’s Missing?

Bus Parked Under Ponam Bridge

There are things to like about this photograph. The layers of light and shadow from top to bottom, the brake lights of the bus peeking out of the darkness like a cat under a blanket, the relative simplicity of the composition, and, um, it’s level.

But it’s boring. Flat. Static. There’s something missing that would turn this decent photo into a good or very good photo. But I couldn’t see it when I was there pressing the shutter button. I saw a bus, a bridge, the light and shadows, the apartments in the background, and the brake lights in the patch of light. There was something there, I’m sure, that I could have included or excluded to transform this bit of documetary into art. But I’m not skilled enough to find it.

How do I get to that level? Keep looking at great photographs, I guess. And maybe I need to spend more time looking at a scene before photographing it. When I was younger I could sometimes get a good poem to appear by staring at a blank sheet of paper for half an hour. (Being hopped up on many mugs of sugary tea probably helped as well). I just need to stare at things more.

The next time I go out I’ll make a point of choosing just one subject and working on it for more than a minute like I usually do. And bring some tea . . . .

National Assembly Patrol Car

National Assembly Patrol Car No. 1, Gangneung

This electric(?) car is parked behind a movable building in the same lot as the toilets. The National Assembly is in Seoul, not Gangneung, so why it would be growing roots out behind this yard is a bit of a mystery.

As for the building itself, I just noticed a sign in the background that says “Rest Area – Diaper Changing Station”. Insert joke about the maturity levels of national assembly members here.

Alley Building

Downtown Buildings, Gangneung

This was made just after coming out of the pork cutlet restaurant I mentioned in my last post. Again, I only had the slightly wide pancake lens on the camera so I couldn’t get the composition I saw using my mind’s eye. Using the 8×10 crop overlay in Lightroom solved the problem. Along with the levelling tool – my head must be screwed on slightly unevenly.

I’m not sure what’s in these buildings. The ground floors are shops and restaurants. The upper floors might have apartments or offices that don’t need window displays.

I got the print version of this photo in the mail today. Everything looks better on matte paper.

Downtown Gangneung

The fronts of buildings often get makeovers to please tourists or attract customers, but the spaces and alleys between buildings are neglected forever. Unless a restaurant or coffee shop somewhere down the alley gets noticed on social media and becomes famous . . .

Bicycle Parked Under Electrical Meters, Gangneung.

All four sides of the Homeplus/CGV building downtown are nice and neat with hedges, tile paving, benches (if you don’t mind smokers), and lampposts.

Homeplus Lamppost, Gangneung.

I think this is where I’m supposed to say something insightful about the modern urban landscape. But nope, I’m just an ignoramus with a camera.

Keep on snappin’ away!

Ladybird

Ladybird

Some years ago the city turned one downtown side street into Culture Street, and required businesses there to give up their garish neon building signs and put up simple round ones. The city put in new brick sidewalks and lamp posts. They also renovated an old police station and turned it into a small cultural centre. On the outside of the building they put this bright red ladybird. It’s quite a cheery thing to see when you walk down the street.

Seongyojang

Some years ago I made photos of Seongyojang using the Hipstamatic application on an iPhone 4. The iPhone/Hipstamatic combination was very limiting – there was only one focal length, the rendering of the scene by the application was a bit random, and the iPhone 4 didn’t produce raw files I could adjust later. What I got when I pressed the shutter button was what I got, but it was challenging and fun. I sometimes thought about doing the same kind of photography again with a ‘proper’ camera, keeping the square format but using different focal lengths and possibly doing the whole project in black and white. On the way to Seongyojang the other day I thought it was a good time to start.

Blurred Calligraphy Sign.

If you go right after entering the grounds, you come to a pavilion called Hwallaejong. It’s a nice place to sit and look at the lotus pond and you can pay to have tea there on certain occasions. It’s been photographed from the front by thousands of people in more or less the same way, including myself. This time I decided to do something a bit different by purposely blurring the calligraphy sign and papered windows around the back of the pavilion.

Lawn and Buildings.

There is a large lawn on the estate that doesn’t seem to be used for anything. I’ve never seen picnickers on it or even children running around on it. Maybe it’s for special events? Although I’ve been to Seongyojang dozens of times, I don’t think I noticed this perspective before. One of the joys of photography is continually seeing things in new ways.

Stepping Stones.

I used my Fujifilm X-T3 because it has in-camera square format and because it’s light. No need for awkward tripods. This is especially important at historical sites and festivals where many people can be moving around. This requires a fairly high ISO setting at times , but, interestingly, the X-T3’s Acros simulation looks better at higher ISOs than it does at lower ISOs. I generally set the camera to auto ISO and aperture priority mode to make life simple.

In traditional Korean houses, especially those in the south, there is no real distinction between doors and windows, since the whole wall is basically removable and a can enter anywhere.
These stairs lead up to an empty plot of land. Possibly they are for the gardener.
Stairs and wall made of stone blocks.

Because I photographed Seongyojang in square format for the iPhone exhibition, I was worried about this new project being more or less the same except in black and white. But I have (I hope) learned more about photography in the past five years and I think that using different focal lengths will give me some new perspectives.

A moderate telephoto lens compressed this chimney nicely against the clay tile roof.
These 18th and later century buildings have been fitted with electricity for interior and exterior lights.
This photo was made in winter, so I’m not sure if the trees in the background are dead or have just lost their leaves for the season.

I’m going to make the rounds of the historical sites in Gangneung and keep an eye out for traditional festivals, but I also want to get out of Gangneung and look for some traditional buildings, etc in other towns and locations. Maybe it’s time to just off my driving license and rent a car.

From the Archive: Seongyojang

Judging by the dates on these photographs, it appears I went to Seongyojang one day with a digital camera and then went back the next day with a film camera. Of course, film takes time to develop and scan, so it’s very likely I was at the residence with the film camera some days before.

Seongyojang, 2009

I suspect this photo of the gate and stepping stones is not very original. It’s not even that good, really. I think I made a better version of this photo later and maybe I’ll come across it as I go through my archives.

Photographer, Seongyojang, 2009

The top of the first photo is the bottom of the second photo. I like the red jacket contrasting with the neutral colours of the wood, sand, and clay tiles.

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 . . . .