Toying with photography

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First published in Groove Korea magazine September 2014

Just like most photography enthusiasts living the expat life in Korea, Diana Lim scarcely leaves home without her camera. And if she’s got her camera, you can be sure that she’s also brought along her two favorite models — bound up in winter socks — awaiting their next adventure.

The Princess and the General are two Korean figurines Lim picked out at a store in Insa-dong after receiving a gift card. “I just bought the cutest things in the store,” she says. With no real plans to do anything specific with them, Lim says her future muses sat around for a while before they made their debut in her photographs.

A self-confessed rookie when it comes to toy photography — that is, the photography genre devoted to shooting small figurines and the like — Lim says she only started fiddling with cameras for the first time when she arrived in Korea four years ago. “My job in social media within the tourism industry let me fall into photography,” she says. Within a week on the job, Lim was already bored of her simple point-and-shoot camera and swapped it for a more advanced gadget.

Lim said she had originally planned to photograph traditional landscapes, but just couldn’t find the patience required to do it well. It wasn’t until a few months later on a mid-winter’s eve that she found her inspiration: “I wanted to go photograph the fresh snow but I hate the cold weather, so I decided to be lazy and just go take photos on my rooftop. I took the Princess and General up with me, and while I was taking pictures of them the General fell flat on his face.”

Lim says the picture of the General’s happy accident got a good online response. From there, ideas and situations involving her figurines just kept coming. Since her first photo shoot with them in 2010, Lim has photographed the pair in over 65 situations. Her craft has advanced to the level of using clever lighting and angles to set different moods, creating different emotions that bring unexpected life to the hanbok-clad figures. But it’s not just the Princess and the General that make the photos; the backgrounds pop too. Lim has taken the couple across Seoul and its surrounding areas, built them furniture and even froze the Princess in a block of ice as an homage to Disney’s hit movie.

“There needs to be a sense of place or a landmark in each picture,” Lim says. “That said, the series is mostly inspired by my own experiences.” And while the Korean landscape is explored and celebrated in many of the photographs, the culture is also commented on, this being most apparent in the tongue-in-cheek photograph titled “Selfie.”

Although she has plans to possibly turn the series into a calendar, Lim says commercial gain is not the objective of the series. “It’s a great way for friends to see what I get up to, because I take the Princess and General wherever I go. I feel like I’m also promoting the beauty of Korea. I’m really fond of this country, so I want to share that.

MORE INFO
www.flickr.com/photos/traveloriented/sets/72157640922775363

 

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Urban exploration

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First published in Groove Korea magazine June 2014

The go-to setting when films show junkies shooting up or blonde babes getting axe murdered, abandoned buildings have a bad rep. And while many try to avoid the graffiti-ridden spots that litter cities and towns around the world, others actively hunt them down for exploration, documentation and appreciation.

One such urban explorer is Korean-American Joseph Jung, a New York City native who has been living in Korea since 2011. Armed with a camera and an ultra-wide lens, Jung captures the innards of abandoned schools, institutions, amusement parks and other decaying or forgotten structures across the peninsula, and then shares these powerful images on his site Abandoned Korea.

Groove Korea caught up with Jung to find out more about this intriguing hobby.

Groove Korea: When did you get into urban exploration (urbex)?

Joseph Jung: During university, a friend told me about an abandoned tunnel with a bunch of graffiti that he had explored. He invited me to join him, but I didn’t really understand it the way he described it; I thought it was some graffiti gallery of sorts and turned down his offer. It wasn’t until he showed me the pictures that he took there that I was like, “I need to go there.” Since then I’ve been hooked.

What about the hobby keeps you hooked and gets you up early on the weekends?

A variety of reasons. For one, some of these places are just plain cool. A disused Cold War missile base? Heck yes. An entire abandoned university campus? Sign me up. Secondly, there’s a certain thrill when it comes to exploring and photographing some of the more dangerous or hard-to-get-to places.

Did the photography come before or after your explorations?

Definitely before. My dad was a photographer, so I remember helping him carry and move equipment from the car for as long I could remember. It wasn’t until university, though, when I cofounded a photography club, that I really took a strong interest in photography. But at the time I didn’t have any focus, so I was just shooting anything and everywhere.

Outside of Korea, where else have you explored?

I’m originally from NYC, so I’ve spent a few years there exploring everything I could, from the underground Amtrak tunnels to decommissioned Cold War missile bases. In Tokyo, I was able to check out a burned down student dormitory, and in Hong Kong, I met up with a group of explorers there to explore a large hybrid factory of sorts. I also managed to find my way into an abandoned Hakka village island out in the Outer Territories.

What are some of the similarities and differences you have noticed between the countries?

New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong all have a pretty visible urbex scene, and even those who don’t enjoy the hobby can understand why someone may want to photograph these abandoned places. Not so in Korea. There’s a sense of shame here when it comes to anything that doesn’t help market the country in a positive and vibrant light.

What is the urbex community like in Korea?

It’s mainly foreigners. There are people spread out across the peninsula, so we’ll post and share photographs of new places we find, but we don’t really meet up that much, except a few times a year like Chuseok or Seollal, which are prime times for exploring as half the city is empty.

What are some of your best finds in Korea?

My favorite location was the local middle school out in the countryside where I taught my first year in Korea. I was alone out on this remote island itching to make the four-hour ride up to Seoul to explore something when I discovered there was an awesome abandoned school literally 10 minutes from me. I used to go down there every few months, and it was my own personal place for a while. Unfortunately, it has since been demolished.

Another favorite location was a neighborhood in Seoul, which was slowly being demolished in parts. From the outside, many of the old smaller houses looked the same, but when I entered this one house, man, it really didn’t deserve to be gone. It exists only in a photograph now.

How do you usually find these spots?

I know some guys who hit the road on their bikes with their eyes peeled for possible new locations, but I personally scour around the web through both English and Korean sites as well as mapping street views. We also share reports and new locations amongst ourselves.

You must come across a ton of weird stuff on your explorations. Can you share any stories?

In Hong Kong, we went out exploring to what we assumed was just an abandoned factory. We walked up a few flights of stairs until we reached the first open floor and all the windows and exits were sealed up with vinyl sheets and tape. Naturally, we cut open the sheets with a key, and on each successive floor we found ourselves on, we found something completely different. On one section we found rooms with padded walls and straitjackets. On another, a morgue, and at another, several prison cells. When we got to the basement we ventured through a hallway and another small space. As we were roaming around, several voices started shouting out at us so we bolted back. Unfortunately, two in our party were cornered by a giant guy with a screwdriver and they had to negotiate their way out.

Are most of these sites you explore no trespassing zones?

Unless you have permission to be somewhere, you’ll always be trespassing. Even a crumbling house that has been vacant for many years still belongs to someone or some authority. With that said, the mantra in the urbex community is, “It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken on an urbex mission?

The picture of an underground ammunition magazine is probably one of my favorite pictures. As it’s a popular spot among a lot of graffiti artists, the art on the walls is constantly changing. Though it attracts a lot of photographers, I like to think that there are no other pictures out there that show the tunnels exactly the same as I saw them that day I took the photo.

MORE INFO

Find out more about Jung’s adventures on his site Abandoned Korea, abandonedkorea.com. And while he probably won’t hand out the GPS coordinates of the spots he’s visited, he might point you in the right direction to find your own.