I’ve been listening to a number of interviews with Ralph Gibson and several times he has talked about showing his photos to Dorothea Lange when he was her darkroom assistant. She looked at them and said, “You have no point of departure.” “This is true,” he replied. “What is a point of departure?” Basically, she explained, it’s having a purpose to your photography. This purpose will allow you to see things you might not otherwise if you are just wandering about.
My point of departure for a project I am working on is making black and white 1:1 photos of traditional Korean objects and scenes. And to do it in a minimalist or abstract way with, ideally, the frame split in two and each section filled with nothing unnecessary included. The photo above is something like I’m looking for, with a large section of grass in one section and a sliver of wall and the game in the other.
This is closer to what I have in mind when I think about the project.
This doesn’t exactly match the idea I have in my head, but it’s not a bad photo and the composition is quite simple. Even if it doesn’t make it into the final project, it’s still a picture I will print and enjoy.
This is close to the ideal again. Most of the photo is filled with the gatehouse wall and then a small amount of the frame is filled with the gate door. But, the two parts of the frame are perhaps too similar to be interesting to the project.
It’s good to have a point of departure and I think I can manage the technical side of it. The problem is the thematic point of departure. What is it I want to say with my photos? At the moment I’m making well-composed records of things I’ve seen, but I’m not sure that I’m making any sort of statement about the things I’ve seen. And this is what separates good photography from great photography. Maybe I’ll never get there. That’s okay, because I enjoy what I’m doing, but I want to take it just that little step further . . . .
I caught a taxi to the Confucian School on Obong Mountain to make a few photos but came back with very little. And even less survived my editing process. And that’s a good thing because organising a lot of photos on the computer is a royal pain in the arse.
I only thought one photo of the school was worth publishing here. I’ve made similar photos of this tree and wall before, but I think this one is a slight improvement. Better micro-composition, etc. This is from the camera with no adjustments made on the computer. Just how I like it. It was an overcast morning, so I think I may have adjusted the highlight setting on the X-T3 to +1 for a little extra contrast.
The sign on the left says it is illegal to do burials and set up graves within 500 metres because the water off the hill feeds into the water supply for the town. The sign on the right says you can’t dump garbage there. These signs are next to the Confucian school and I made the photo as I was leaving.
Like the other photos above, this photo is straight from the camera. I think I spot-metred off the pavement underneath the gate and compensated by +1 or +1.3. I keep forgetting to change settings, so although the sun was out, the highlight setting on the camera was still probably at +1. This gate is just down the road from the Confucian school.
Although I dislike making adjustments to photos in Lightroom, I wonder if it might not be a good idea to darken the lower righthand section of the first photo for a bit of balance. Any suggestions?
I have a little bit of a pileup in the ‘Website Photos’ folder on my desktop, so I was thinking of ways to upload more than one photo at a time without seeming too random. Ta-da! Things that begin with W! Oh ho ho . . .
I made the first photo because I thought the woman’s pink jacket would make a nice contrast with and spot of interest in a bare landscape. Korean winters are visually bleak because everything is dead and brown but there’s no snow to cover it up. And most people wear black or dark jackets. So the bright pink jacket of this lady was a welcome sight.
The second photo was a compose and wait situation. I filled most of the frame with this dark brown building (a public washroom. Another W!) and waited for something interesting to fill the bit of space on the left. I didn’t have a tripod with me so my arms got quite tired. I missed a cyclist passing by when I brought the camera down for a second to rest my arms and cursed about it, but I think this young woman in a long black jacket is better suited for the scene because she matches the building. The building looks like something out of a drab dystopian future that creates and releases drably-dressed humans into the landscape. Her shoes are a bit fancy, though, so that image doesn’t really hold up . . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were some heavy rains last month and the stepping stone bridge across the Namdae River was underwater. This is normal flooding level for the river and there was no state of emergency. The sign on the gate says, “Danger. No entry when the river is flooded.” Duh.
For those who wonder about these things, the film was Kodak Ultramax 400 and the camera was a Nikon F6 (I’m 95% sure).
I’ve been to this estate many times in the past, but I enjoy going there every couple of months to see what I might have missed or to experience the buildings in different light. I usually see something in a new way every time I visit, which is one of the pleasures of photography.
I usually photograph this gate from farther back to get the long earthen walls and an impressive tree off to the right. But this time I walked closer and stayed to the right. That’s when this scene fell into place. I’ve walked up to this gate a hundred times before but never seen this particular view. Visit and re-visit is the lesson here.
This is one window/door of the sarangchae, the men’s residence. (Women in the past had to be in the anchae out back, where the kitchen is). This photo was an exercise in lining things up and keeping an eye on the viewfinder’s electronic level.
Looking at these two photos of the Heo estate makes me pretty happy. Time for another trip, I think. The best photo of my life could be waiting for me.