My office is extravagantly large and covers two distinct worlds in the span of a few short blocks of one of the word’s largest cities. I don’t pay rent. I don’t have any clients. And best of all, I answer to no one. I am the happiest man alive.
If you think New York City is big, think again: Seoul has about two million more people than the five boroughs combined and is 75 square miles smaller.
At one end of my office is Myeong-dong, a neighborhood that is the heart of Seoul’s main shopping and tourism districts. Myeong-dong is considered the ninth most expensive retail street in the world, anchored by the upscale Lotte Department and the even more upscale Shinsegae Department Store - owned by Samsung.
The flip side to this is Namdaemun Market, a large traditional market that dates to 1414 - and still inaccessible to cars.
Virtually all my street photography in Seoul comes from this area, with a Ricoh GR II - because everything that appeals to me is on display here every day - and it’s only a 15-minute subway ride from home base.
On any given day there are upper-class women burdened with overpriced items emerging from both the Lotte and Shinsegae stores - while their salarymen husbands show up daily to the corporate castle to be wage-slaves (serfs up) and pay-off the credit cards.
There are also the happy young Chinese tourists, flush with money thanks to American outsourced manufacturing over the past 20 years - glad as hell to be away from one the world’s leading totalitarian countries and enjoy the youth-oriented stores that appeal to the K-Pop fan base.
In shifting toward the traditional Namdaemun Market, there are the cut-rate shoe, hat, watch and optical stores operated by decent hard-working lower-middle class Koreans.
There are also the family-run street food vendors and the hole-in-the wall restaurants where you would have expected to see Anthony Bourdain filming another classic No Reservations episode.
And then there are the down-and-out older people who have lost their hopes, their dreams their courage and in some cases, their minds; bums asleep in some dark corner, legless beggars crawling along the sidewalks on a short wooden cart with small wheels.
In other words, Seoul is a big city and it’s alive and exciting, humdrum and normal, and achingly heartbreaking in the vivid examples of bad luck, dreadful fate and our cruel neglect of each other.
These days I’m a street photographer. I’ve been a lot of other things in my life, but for now this is the call I answer. I could tell you that I want my photography to make a positive difference in the world - and that’s true.
I could also tell you that photography is an antidote to boredom - and that’s true.
I could tell you hat I know what I’m doing every time I pick up a camera - and that’s just plain rubbish.
I could tell you that photography is cheaper (and better) than seeing a shrink - and that is absolutely true.
I could tell you that I am offended by the ostentatious display of wealth by people pouring out of swank department stores to drive off in their obscenely prices Lexus cars - and that is so true.
I could tell you that I the sight of a grimy bum asleep on the sidewalk at noon evokes empathy because I’ve been punched out by life once or twice in my odyssey - and this is true
I could also tell you that I want to use a camera to document reality - and show us in all the nuanced shades of experience - and avoid the deranged babbling of a President who exists in an alternate reality where the fakest aspect is the architect of that lunacy.
I don’t want to shy away from appropriate displays of human kindness and love, as well as despair and cruelty.
I don’t know how to change life for the better through photography, yet I can’t refrain from trying - and that is the truth.
I bought the ticket, and I’m still on the ride.