Michael Hunt is a well-renowned Seoul photographer. His work’s regularly published on CNNGo.com and in South Korean fashion magazines, but he started out as a street photographer.

Hunt gave two workshops for us this weekend. One was on the history of photography, primarily street and fashion (here’s his fashion blog), in Seoul. The other was about racism and “otherness” in South Korea, a very large problem. Most of Hunt’s street photography that he showed us centered around Korean consumerism and sexual commodification. Looks are a major part of life in South Korea. People have not been hired for not being pretty enough; women spend enormous sums of money on clothing, makeup, and plastic surgery; and status, particularly in the major cities, is directly correlated with the amount of consumption one engages in. Korea is a very social society, and socialization takes place almost exclusively during acts of consumption. This is hardly unique, particularly if you’re from America, but the blatant superficiality of Korean consumption and female objectification could give even the most vapid Southern Californian pause. But I don’t like to take pictures of those people. Have another picture of a group of kids, my favorite standby photographic subjects.

This afternoon, ten of us paid 10,000 won (around $10 USD) to go to Chongju with Hunt and have a photography class. He explained the basics of aperture, shutter speed, fill flashes, and other things I should have known by now but didn’t. Then he explained his street photography method. In South Korea, a person legally owns the image of their face, but it is still legal to photograph them in public. Being photographed without permission can be extremely insulting, particularly when done to older people. Naturally, this is a major problem for someone walking around a city doing people-watching with their camera. To get past this, Hunt puts his camera around his neck and holds it with one hand as it lays against his chest, a finger on the shutter, and browses his cell phone with his other hand. From chest level, he aims at the surroundings with his lens pulled back wide to capture as much as possible. Then he goes right up to people or interesting scenes and takes a picture. With the din of South Korean cities, no one hears the click and virtually no one ever notices. This allows him to get some pretty great pictures.

After some demonstrations, he set us loose on Chongju and I engaged in my first covert attempts at street photography. The results were pretty bad, but it was enjoyable as hell. People genuinely don’t notice as long as a camera isn’t up to your face.  It’s an acquired talent. I fully intend to exploit it when we go to Seoul. Unfortunately, my Canon battery charger was shocked into uselessness when I hooked it up to the converter in my dorm room this evening after getting back. So I have no charged batteries for my camera, and won’t be taking anymore pictures anytime soon.

Advertisements