A few years ago a freelance writer got in touch with me. He liked my photography and was wondering if I’d be interested in doing a short interview. He made it clear that this was something he would eventually pitch to VICE and that there was no guarantee that it would get approved. The interview was part email back-and-forth and part Skype conversation. I could tell, through our correspondence, that he was genuinely appreciative of my photography, but as things progressed it became clear his editor needed me to provide some ‘dirt’ to make the piece more VICE edgy. All said and done, I just didn’t see my photography as being negative, and for the editor to want me to dig deep and come up with some dirt about Korea was a bit much. I have to defend my street photography enough when Koreans see it because nine times out of ten native Koreans think my Seoul street photography makes Korea look poor, dirty, and undeveloped. I just wasn’t prepared to agree with them in order to get my shit published in VICE.
I should mention that I’ve gone through and edited/expanded on some of the things I said in the interview.
Q- How was South Korea?
Seoul is a pretty radtacular place if you go in with an open mind. A sizable percentage of the expat population there bitch and moan a lot, but if you can get past having a shitty job, shitty boss, and less access to recreational substances it’s easy living.
Q- I bet. Where are you from originally? Why’d you leave?
I am originally from Toronto. A few days after graduating, a buddy of mine called me up and asked me if I wanted a job teaching English in Seoul. I asked him if there was any yayo in Seoul and seven days after him telling me there wasn’t I was in a classroom full of ten-year-old kids teaching English. I honestly thought I’d only be there for six months, but I ended up falling in love with the place.
Q- Did you manage to find any yayo?
I’d never looked for it. I kept busy drinking and exploring the city. The chance did come up about a year into my time there but I declined the offer. Mission accomplished.
Q- You say your work has no message or meaning, why’s that important?
It’s not important. It’s just that I am often asked what my message or motive is and answering that I simply take photos isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It’s that de facto question everyone asks of a photographer and from what I can tell, the better a photographer can bullshit their answer, the more attention they get. Last week I was asked more than a few times about it, and it got me thinking that maybe I do need a message and I ended up smoking a pack of Golden Virginia on the balcony talking to myself about it. I concluded that it boils down to me not being able to eloquently phrase “I like capturing what’s around me”. Instead, I am expected to “like exploring the human element by”…I can’t even begin to move forward with that statement because it makes me feel sick. Why must I have something poignant to say about my photography!
Q- It seems to me like you capture the glance, a seemingly insignificant moment unworthy of recognition – your photos represent the double-take.
I am not interested in always providing the most interesting photos of really interesting things. Cities everywhere, after living in them for a time, get boring. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’d do what I did if they lived some place more fun, cool, photo worthy. In my opinion, they’re just fucking lazy. Street photography can be boring, so those seemingly insignificant moments happen far more often than the fucked up things that get published on FAIL blogs and in Vice. Those in-your-face photographers are trendy now, but they’re shit gets old fast and their style is unsustainable. My work is going to remain seemingly insignificant forever.
Q- Why is Korea trying to hide its ugly side?
I have to generalize to answer this question, but Koreans can’t understand why I would want to walk down a narrow ally in an old neighborhood to take photos. They want me walking through the newly erected areas and they want me to highlight all things shiny, sparkling and glamorous. I don’t actually think I am taking pictures of an “ugly side”. I do walk through shiny areas, but to get from one shiny area to the next, I inevitably walk through an older area that hasn’t gone through gentrification, or is in the process of gentrification. They don’t want me in those areas because development is often messy business and a lot of people don’t want those issues coming to light. Generally speaking, Koreans think my photos make Korea look dirty, poor, and depressing. Their impression of my photos is the complete opposite of what people outside Korea think my photos are showing them of Seoul.
Q- Did photography help you avoid being a lonely Canadian?
Not really. Street photography can be a pretty lonely hobby as I rarely interact with the people around me. I guess it’s less lonely than sitting at home watching TV, but it isn’t a very social experience. There is a balance, so if you have a good set of friends and can occupy some of your time doing things with them, then the loneliness of street photography doesn’t become a problem.
Q- Personal travel photography has exploded, what do you hate about it?
Has it? I had no idea. I genuinely don’t hate most photography. I hate what most photographers write about their photography. In a lot of cases, I feel like they are compensating a weak shot by blathering on and on about this or that. It’s sometimes painful to read.
Q- In a more compact sense; what’s wrong with most street photography?
I know Street Photography isn’t a picture of flowers in your back yard, raindrops on a window, cappuccino art, and photos with inspiring Helvetica text on them. On the whole, the scene is infected by the disease of writing about the photo, or even worse watermarking a photo. In fact, I almost always immediately ignore a shot that has a watermark on it. When I don’t, I try and tell the photographer how much I hate their watermark. Watermarks are for posers and stock photography sites. There is this mentality today that something profound must accompany the shot. It is infuriating that so many great photos out there include text that tells lies, exaggerations, and half-truths the photographer comes up with in the hope that their words will resonate with critics, editors, and curators, and worst of all, make their photo more compelling. Making a joke or sometimes writing something is fine, but there are photographers out there neck deep in that fucking nonsense.
Q- Why do you hate watermarking?
I despise watermarks. They’re ugly and useless. When I see a photo with a watermark words that come to mind are “amateur”, “poser”, and “giant ego”. Some might say I am arrogant for saying that, but I’m not arrogant enough to put a watermark on my photo! The only person who appreciates a watermark is the fuck who put it there. Then there is the camp who thinks a watermark is an “artist’s signature” and that it magically copyrights and protects the photo. Most people who watermark put it in one of the corners. This makes no sense because if I really like the shot, and really want to steal it, I can just download it and crop it a bit. And at the end of the day, what is to stop someone from downloading my 72dpi picture, watermarking it, and then claiming it is theirs? The same fucking thing that stops anyone stealing a watermarked 72dpi photo: the original photo! In short, watermarking DOES NOT mean something is copyrighted or protected. It’s just a distraction from the picture and usually some text saying, “HEY, LOOK AT MY NAME INSTEAD OF THIS PHOTO!!!”
I appreciate photography on Instagram, and I have a few friends who use it quite regularly. I myself don’t use it very often, but I don’t think services like that are threats to “photography”. I think they’re an additional outlet for people who want to be creative, and we should probably embrace them.
Q- Is there pressure to be poignant with photography?