Summer is never a good season for me because of the heat and the humidity. Sweat runs down my arms and gets on my cameras and it’s hard to think straight about a composition when my body feels like it’s being steamed like a dumpling. But this year the situation is worse because I feel like I’ve reached the limits of my technique and creativity while still wanting to be a better photographer. It’s very frustrating.

I recently started looking and thinking more seriously about my photographs because I want to know how I might break out of this slump and become a better photographer. I tried to think about what makes a good photograph. Technique, including composition and lighting, is a big one. A good photo should also say something, even if it’s as simple as ‘people park motorcycles on sidewalks in Korea’. A great photo will get people to think differently about a subject by what’s included in the frame and how it’s arranged. A third way to make a ‘keeper’ is to record something for the future. Documentary. I think I am good at composition and design but not that great at saying something by using design in a thoughtful way. Perhaps I should go through my photo albums to see if I have any photos like that and try to make more.

I also wonder if something other than a lack of talent is preventing me from making good photographs. I sometimes feel stuck because I have no car and I end up going to the same places all the time. Downtown, Anmok beach, the river mouth, and occasionally a couple of historical sites that are within the city but not on frequent bus routes. Maybe that’s an excuse. I could probably make more interesting photos at the beach and downtown if I weren’t so shy of people. But there are lots of great photos without people in them so that’s possibly just another excuse.

Should I just take a long break from making pictures? If I’m not doing photography, maybe my mind will work on some ideas in the background and I can use these when I pick up the camera again. Maybe. But more than likely I’ll just get out of practice and lose my skills. So not a rest, then. But a change is as good as a rest, no? I’ve been using my D810 with a 50mm lens for just about everything so maybe I need to put those aside and use something else. A couple of my favourite photos were made using a point and shoot camera and the very cheap C200 negative film produced by Fuji. The film has very bright colours and it’s difficult to get a bad exposure with it. The camera had a 28mm lens in it for a wide view and good depth of field. I think I’ll order some of that film and stick a 28mm lens on my Nikon F6. Or buy a cheap point and shoot? The one I had broke, unfortunately. It was a great Ricoh camera.

Here are the two photos I mentioned made on C200 film:



They almost look like paintings because of the grain and colours. I’m definitely going to order some C200 film and see if I can’t make some photos like this again.

Well, I feel better after writing this . . . .


Potato Pancakes

It’s hard to make photos in the summer because of the harsh sunlight and the humidity, but the other day I got downtown on a cloudy and slightly cool day with my camera. Most of what I did isn’t worth showing and, in fact, they are now in my computer’s rubbish heap. I did keep a couple of interesting photos and a series of photos showing potato pancakes being cooked in a market shop. I am hoping that this will make up for the disappointing Gohan photos . . . .


This tricycle scooter is loaded up with green onion and he’s, um, scooting across a four lane avenue illegally. He didn’t notice that the green onions were dragging on the street until an older gentleman on the other side of the road pointed it out to him. This man then stopped to push the green onions up on the footstep before tearing off again. Someone with this much green onion probably runs a restaurant and it’s a bit frightening to think that onion that’s been scraped along a road ended up in someone’s soup.

The main reason I came downtown was to buy a few things at the supermarket. The central market is nearby so I decided to stop by and get something for dinner. I don’t usually buy anything at the market because it’s not the cleanest or neatest place in the world but prepared food there is good. I decided to buy potato pancake from a woman operating a small restaurant and takeaway place.


When you order potato pancakes, she pulls some peeled potatoes out of a bowl of water and grinds them up. She mixes the potato with some green onions (hopefully not from Mr. Scooter’s supply) in a pot she uses as a mixing bowl.


She then dips the end of a radish into a pot of oil and uses that to oil the frying pan. I’ve never seen that before.


The woman then puts the thick batter on the concave frying pan.


She then spreads it out.


A couple of the woman’s friends are sitting inside and having a chat.




The city is renovating the downtown area in preparation for the 2018 Olympics and these guys were putting in television cables right in front of the shop. The workers said “cables for television” to the shop owners, whatever they might be. The owners of the shops and restaurants looked very nervous because quite a few places have already been demolished to make way for a park and a new building. I guess it might not be long before the potato pancake woman is sent on her way to allow new building projects. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the small restaurants are pretty grubby and maybe health inspections are not that frequent. On the other hand, the food is good and shiny new restaurants might not be able to replicate the taste.


Trip to Gohan, Part IIII


A view of ‘downtown; Gohan from up by the train station.


Looking down the street instead of up. This composition is not bad, actually. I waited for two cars coming in opposite directions to fill out the empty space of the street.


More mining art.


Another kitty-cat enjoying a rest.


Supper! You can’t order a single serving of meat in a meat restaurant because, I suppose, they lose too much money on the side dishes. Especially these days when the price of vegetables has skyrocketed because of the drought ealier this spring. I ordered two servings which, as you can see, is not really that much anyway. It’s unusual for a person to eat alone in a restaurant like this. Usually people come with friends or family.


A very thin building.


Laundry day.


On the train home there was a large group of teenagers going to Donghae. It might be difficult to see, but the girl on the right is holding up a small mirror to do makeup and check the roller in her bangs.

I had a nice rest in Gohan but photographically it was more or less a disaster. There was no theme to my photos and I am probably too shy to do documentary photography. The next time I travel somewhere I will do the detailed, abstract photography that I am better at.

Lesson learned.


A Trip to Gohan, Part III


Sign for a fortune teller in an alley.


You can find these cards offering loan-shark services all over Korea, but they are especially worrying in a town where gambling is a big industry.


You wouldn’t want to walk down this alley late at night. Not because you’re in danger of being robbed, but because you’re in danger of tripping over something and breaking your head.


I guess these scenes on an abandoned building are supposed to bring back memories of The Good Old Days, but it looks miserable to me.


A Bridge-Eye-View of road construction.


These blocks of ash have been varnished and painted by children and put on display here and there in the town. Interesting idea.


A local bus breezes through town.


This kind of bus is also common. Some of them bring employees to the resort and some are for guests.


Another town art project. The pictures are of people who live in the town. I wonder if it was put up for civic pride or to remind tourists that real people live in the town and they should be respectful while on holiday.


The view from the 8th floor hallway of my hotel. The train station is top left.


I had one meal at a nice tofu restaurant near the bottom part of town. I wish I had discovered it before I desperately went into Gimbap Nara. I ordered doenjang ddukbaegi. doenjang is bean paste and ddukbaegi is the pot it’s served in. I’d never seen it before and it turns out to be a combination between regular soy bean paste soup and cheonggukjang, which is a very pungent and strong bean paste soup. It was good. The owners were friendly. While I was looking at some locally made snacks while paying for my meal, the owner handed over a bag of ‘pot-bottom hard rice’ and said I could have it for free.


The food court of the Gohan market. I also wish I had discovered this before Gimbap Nara . . . . .


More ash-block art and a poster advertising a film festival about coal mining.


The lady on the left sells deep-fried foods and fried whole potatoes. The stall on the right serves noodles and jellies.


The ceiling of the market is made to look like a coal mine.


I didn’t bring enough underwear with me, so I had to buy a pair at this underwear shop in the market. Good quality at a decent price.


Trip to Gohan, Part II


It was almost one o’clock by the time I got off the train and started looking around for something to eat. I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me right away, so I entered a franchise restaurant called Gimbap Nara. It’s not great food, but it’s safe. The owner of this franchise decided to set up a cheap stand with his or her bottles of ginseng alcohol. It’s ‘made’ by putting ginseng in a jar and filling it up with soju, the local evil water. It might be soju exactly, but you can buy it in the supermarkets. Then you leave it to absorb the flavour of the ginseng for several months.


Here is the employee coming from a back room, holding my frozen pork cutlet in her hands. In the mirror is a mans he knows who was trying to convince her to leave the restaurant and come work at a resort where he’s got a good job.


Yes, that’s shredded cabbage with ketchup and mayonaisse as dressing. The meal was as bad as it looks.


Because it was a hot day, I stayed in my hotel room all afternoon and only ventured out when the sun had gone down a bit and I was hungry. I went to my favourite chicken restaurant, Pizza Country Chicken Princess, and I waited for my food (fried chicken in curry sauce and a combination pizza!) on the street. The street was much cooler than the restaurant. While I was there watching swallows fly about, these two women came to the door of the restaurant and asked the young men working there is they knew a certain Mr. Gim. One of the young men said that they had just recently opened the restaurant and didn’t know the person in question. He said, “Can I ask what you need him for?” The woman in the awful red pants shouted, “Nothing!” Crazy old bat. The two women kept asking around and finally this man said that they could probably find out where Mr. Gim was by asking at the interior design shop. Supper-time drama.


At first glance, I thought the town had put up a picture of Che Guevera, a dangerous thing to do in this commie-hating country. But then I realised it’s the face of a miner. This area once had a large coal industry that has now been mostly replaced by catering to gamblers and skiers.


Da b’ys.


No matter how poor and miserable a town is, there will be a bloody big church that cost a fortune to build.


The skip on the left is for coal ash and the two boxes are for old clothes, blankets, and so on.


Coal blocks are used for coal stoves or water boilers. The people in the town must use a lot of them because there are lots of places where you can throw away the ashes. I’ve seen lots of these in fields, so I guess they are used for fertiliser.


Gohan Cable Television.


A less successful church. When churches can’t afford a proper bell tower, they put up a kind of radio tower and plant their cross on top of that. Most Korean church crosses are made with red neon and it looks spooky to western eyes at night.


Office for one of the resort companies.

20170726-025_gohanAnd this house right across the river.


This cat lives next to a fish restaurant. The luckiest cat in Gohan, probably.


Traditional iron cooking pot, heated by gas rather than wood.


A banner for a pork restaurant where I ate later in the day. I like how the middle parts of the onion slice are pushed in so that the onion looks like a pig’s nose.


A tour bus coming from the High1 resort on the hill.


I didn’t notice this part of Gohan when I visited several years ago. Maybe it’s new. All the buildings are fairly new and are for tourists. Ski rentals, convenience stores, restaurants, hotels, and so on.


Sidewalks are not for people in Korea.


If the council prevents you from parking on the side of the road, just park on the sidewalk!


More mine related art.


Who’s a good boy? WHO’s a good boy!? A very friendly retriever I met on a walking path.


The importance of printing

Last night I finished typing my old poems from twenty and twenty-five years ago into my computer. I had a computer when I wrote those poems and used it to print them, but where are those files now? Lost through accident because of poor or nonexistant backup practices, deleted by mistake and never noticed, or perhaps sitting on a floppy disk in an obsolete document format at the bottom of a landfill in Grand Falls or Andong. But on my bookshelf I still have all the poems I’ve written since university. Perfectly readable on odinary printer paper that hasn’t yellowed or crumbled.

I make backups of my documents and photographs these days. I’m careful about it, but accidents do happen and sometimes I’m careless. That’s why I make 8×10 prints of my best photographs every month and put them in archival folders. They will outlive me, never become obsolete and unviewable by human eyes, and I can’t accidentally delete or forget to include them in a backup.

Print, print, print.


Trip to Gohan, Part I

A couple of weeks ago I took a short trip to the town of Gohan up in the mountains. I mostly just went for a break but I also wanted to practise some documentary photography. THIS is GOHAN LIFE. Something like that. But that was a mistake. I’m not good at that sort of photography and all I came back with were about 500 snapshots that show a slightly grubby town. The next time I take a trip, I’m going to bring a tripod and do the kind of slow and static photography I’m better at. That said, here are some of the photos I took. They might be of interest to someone who has never been to a small Korean town. There are just over 72 photos so I will post in three or four parts.


It pissed out of the heavens on the morning I left. I bought a ticket for the first class car with its longer windows and nicer seats.


The Jeongdongjin train station is right on the beach and many families and young couples come to see the sunrise. But no luck that morning.


A Korail employee watching the train leave the station.


Two young women get off the train in Donghae.


A pedestrian rail crossing on the outskirts of Donghae.


Houses near the train tracks are usually run-down, so I was surprised to see this well-kept traditional Korean house very close to the line.


Entering a tunnel.


Inside a tunnel.


Exiting a tunnel. The train to Gohan passes through many tunnels, and some of them are kilometres long.


This is not a very good photo, but you can see some of Gangwon Province’s landscape. The hills, the flat farmland, and the river. The houses in the background are in an excellent spot, according to feng-shui. The house faces south with hills behind it and has running water in front of it.


A train speeds past mine in the opposite direction.


My train passed through the City of Taebaek.


Sometimes you are driving through the countryside when suddenly you come upon tall apartment buildings that seem out of place, like alien artifacts dropped into the landscape.


I stood by the exit as the train pulled into Gohan station. This fellow waiting for a train seems aggressive in his stance.


Is this man rapping or ranting? In either case, he looks like someone to stay away from.


This town square, or triangle, is across from the train station. It was usually taken over by smokers while I was there, despite it being a public space. The sign says, “This place is 700m above sea level.”


There was a lot of road construction in the town this summer. On the hill are apartments for employees of a resort.


An old-fashioned suit shop. I like the plants in the display window.


Satellite TV dish on a small house. Many people in Korea can’t be bothered to paint concrete walls, making many neighbourhoods quite depressing. It looks like the third world existing in the cracks between the shiny department stores and apartment skyscrapers.