Seongyojang

I cut my camera collection down to one digital camera and a zoom lens, but a few weeks ago I had the urge to use some film. I had a number of rolls sitting in the fridge just soaking up cosmic and background radiation but nothing to put them in. I didn’t want to buy anything expensive because I had just sold all my expensive film gear and I wanted something small. Which lead me to the Minolta X-700 and a 50mm F1.4 lens.
Or, I should say, a Samsung Minolta X-700 with a Samsung F1.4 lens. From the late seventies onwards, luxury items were not allowed to be imported into Korea. This included cameras, unless one of the big Korean companies like Samsung or Hyundai stuck their name on it. Then it was fine. My camera has the old Samsung symbol of three stars on the front (Samsung means ‘three stars’) and on the back where most Minolta cameras say “Japan” this camera has “Samsung Aerospace Industries Corporation” written in Chinese characters. I’m not sure if that means the camera was assembled in Korea or not. The lens has Korea written on the front, so possibly it was assembled here.

I put in a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400 and went to Seongyojang. Where I discovered that citizens of Gangneung can get free admission instead of paying the usual price of 5,000 Won. That was a nice surprise. I thought about bringing my digital camera to ensure proper exposure, but decided I wanted to see how good the Minolta’s light meter is. Very good, as it turns out. Later testing showed it to give the same results or near enough as damn it as my digital.

Manhole and Rice Straw, Seongyojang.
Roof thatching season at Seongyojang. The estate had piles of rice straw everywhere. I was worried that the rather loud mirror slap would give me blurred photos, but they were as sharp as you could expect from this film.
View of houses across pavement, Seongyojang.
I’ve made photos of this scene before, but never included the stones in the foreground. It’s amazing how you can visit a place dozens of times and see something new each time.
Man climbing ladder to thatch house, Seongyojang.
Roof thatching
Man thatching roof watches passing woman, Seongyojang.
Please pay attention to your work . . . .

I was pleased with the results I got from the camera, and I’m sure I will get better results with the Portra 400 and Ektar colour films I still have in the fridge. Soon I’ll post some black and white photos I made with the camera on the same day I made these.

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.

Birthplace of Heo Gyun and Heo Nanseolheon

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.