Seongyojang and Point of Departure

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.

Sometimes getting the perfect ‘shot’ is as difficult as tossing these sticks into the wooden jar.

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.

Two kinds of stone wall

This is closer to what I have in mind when I think about the project.

Various totem poles

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.

Gate

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 . . . .

On the way to work

The field in the foreground belongs to another house, but it isn’t as photogenic as this place. Or as well placed for a photograph. You can’t see it in this photo, but behind the break in the hedges is a doghouse where a small dog lives. When I first started using this road the dog would come out of its house and look at me while wagging its tail. If no one was around. If the home owner was about, it would bark at me a few times. Very human in that regard. When the boss is around you have to look like you’re working, right? Lately the dog has started barking at me even when alone. I wonder if it has anything to do with the disppearance of Baduki, a neighbourhood dog that used to roam freely, visiting his chained friends and greeting me enthusiastically every time I passed his home. Last year his owner started chaining him up and keeping him inside. That seems to be about the time the dog at the house above became less friendly. Maybe the dog is just getting old and crusty.

Doggy Update!: I went for a walk today up over the hill and on the way back I met a chainless Baduki wagging his tail at a very nervous woman and her little black dog with their backs up against a tree. Poor Baduki. He just wants to be friends but he’s misunderstood. I stopped to say hello to him but he was only interested in a potential new doggy friend. So I walked down the hill. By the time I got to his house he was running down the road after me. So we had a nice little time with much head scratching, rubbing, and wagging of tail. Nice to see him again.

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.

Jukheon Reservoir Tomb Site

Tomb Site at Jukheon Reservoir, 2019
The Space Between Tombs, Jukheon Reservoir, 2019

Inscriptions at tomb sites are often written in Chinese characters, so it’s difficult for me to find out who is buried under the mounds of earth. Whoever they were, they must have belonged to a well-off family with the money to buy a large piece of land and have stelae, statues, and tombs made.
These photographs were made in May, when there wasn’t much rain to make the land green. The grass probably grew a lot during the rainy season (I haven’t been there since I made these photos) and the site will get groomed in September in preparation for the harvest festival when Koreans perform rites to honour their ancestors. But not all Koreans. Protestants are forbidden from performing ancestral rites because it’s considered worshipping gods/spirits other than God/Jesus/Holy Ghost.
There are quite a few tomb sites around the reservoir, but none as large, as impressive, and as secluded as this one. Most are within sight of houses and, although I’m not walking on graves or anything, I’m not sure how people would feel about me looking around and making photos.