Defining My Photography: Documenting the Beauty of Seoul?

From a recent calculation, it seems I have around 92,500 photographs on my hard drive that have gone mostly unseen by almost everyone. If you were to look through my photographs taking an average of 10 seconds per shot, you would be at it non-stop, for more than 10 24-hour days! That’s a lot of photographs!

I love photography! I moved to Seoul, South Korea a little over 10 years ago. I would often go out exploring, learning everything I could about the history and culture of this new place. I fell in love with the people and exploring life in the city as well wherever else I’ve been on the peninsula. Although I have photos from my phone, (not included in the above figures), that predate my purchase, I got my first DSLR camera near the end of August 2014.

During the last 8 years after that first camera purchase, I also fell in love with photography. I photographed my son from when he was a baby, I photographed my family, wife, and friends, and I also photographed portraits for others as well. But more than anything else, I’ve photographed the beauty of life in Seoul. For a long time, I associated what I was doing with street photography. In the beginning, I learned more about that craft and would practice and shoot enthusiastically as a explored the urban areas of Seoul both day and night.

Currently, I’m not entirely against my work being termed as “street photography”. However, I wouldn’t classify it that way any longer. Though there are some similarities, I prefer to refer to my work as a documentary style. I enjoy ‘documenting’ the beauty of life in Seoul. Not just random photographs here and there, but a body of work that can represent how I view everyday life in South Korea.

Documentary photography is commonly defined as a body of work that documents important occasions and events that are of historical importance. Photojournalism is the art of photographing current breaking news happening right here and now. My work can’t fit into the definition of either of those on the surface but certainly fits into ‘documentary photography’ when considering a broader view.

One definition of documentary photography is “a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events“. Wikipedia also defines it this way, “Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle… environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life.” It further explains, “It is typically undertaken as professional photojournalism… but it may also be… [an] artistic …pursuit.

What about my photography? How would I define it? I would define it as documenting the environment, the people, and the places I visit. It’s an accurate representation, as well. These photographs are not posed by models. (I do have photoshoots with models, or with family/friends. That, however, is separate from this body of work.) The photographs are real people, going about their real business, perhaps not evening taking notice of me or my camera.

Later this body of work can show life in Seoul in the mid-2010s-2020s! Spectacular now? Perhaps! But how much more so will this body of work help people to understand life in Seoul in 2040, 2050, or 2100? I enjoy documenting what I see now. The beauty of the people, culture, and places I visit. I honestly never considered leaving this behind for viewers in the year 2100 to look back 80 years to learn about our current society. In fact, I document now, to show real life, everyday life in Seoul right now. That’s what I’m focused on, that’s what I enjoy, that’s what I love! If it serves a future purpose, that’s only a bonus!

To me, this is also an artistic pursuit. Although at times, I may be limited by time and need to be quick at what I do, I often spend much more time considering how to photograph the feeling and essence of a scene. How can a photograph best capture the feeling, scent, taste, sound as well as a view? How can I best capture the emotions of a person? This is the challenge, it’s often very difficult to capture such a photograph! I face this great challenge every time I’m out! Some days I fail at this, but what a joy when I succeed at capturing something memorable!

Every time I’m out photographing, I’m looking for what makes Seoul so beautiful, and when I capture that, I will present it here in this photo journal. I will share my photographs, my process, my photography tips, and my thoughts and feelings on the work.

My name is Don, I’m a photographer based in Seoul, South Korea. This is my photo journal. I document the beauty of life in Seoul! (I do this mostly in black and white with a 35mm lens.)

Leave a Comment