Seongyojang

It’s about a fifteen minute drive to Seongyojang from my apartment if you have your own vehicle, but takes almost two hours by bus. There are few buses to that part of town, even though it’s a tourist area. Tourists have their own cars, I guess.

It’s probably best it’s inconvenient to get to Seongyojang because the entrance fee is expensive. Lots of public historical sites are free or cheap, but this private residence has to make money with much aid from the government.

I’m sad to say this photo is heavily cropped because I didn’t think of a vertical composition until I got home and saw the photo on my computer. The structure in the middle is a chimney. Korean chimneys come up from ground level because the smoke and hot air goes from the kitchen at one of the house to a chimney at the other end of the house, warming the rooms as it passes under them. Much like a Roman hypocaust.

Here is the other end of the hypocaust system. The fire under this pot is what heats the building. Great in winter, but not so good in summer. Some rooms in a traditional Korean house didn’t have underfloor heating so that you could avoid being boiled at the same time as the supper.

A more modern addition to one of the buildings on this housing estate. The owners of this estate were (are?) extremely rich and connected, so they were probably one of the first in Korea to have electricity. Compare to the owner of the convenience store near my house. He is the same age as me and didn’t have electricity until after he entered primary school.

The lack of straight lines in a traditional Korea home seems to be a point of pride for people who tell me about historical architecture. As a photographer who likes rather formal photos, it sometimes drives me batty.

This window has no glass in it, possibly to let out the heat of cooking in the hot Korean summer. I’m not sure what happens during the cold Korean winter.

The scene is slightly spoiled by the Ladies/Gents sign over the left building.

Self-portrait in well. There’s no bucket or anything to draw water, and I think it’s just being used as a nursery for mosquitoes.

These stairs are the beginning of a path that brings you around the circumference of the estate and offers some nice views. Also, a lot of people seem to miss seeing the stairs so the path is quiet and uncrowded.

I was satisfied with some of the photos I made that day at Seongyojang, so I think I’ll go back again when the weather is suitable. There’s also a nice coffee shop that sells tea and cool drinks. It’s done in a traditional Korean style and was empty when I went in. One of the benefits of going to tourist places on weekday mornings.

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.