on walls, in hongdae


Politics, December 2012

I took this photo a couple of weeks before the election last year so it constitutes something like an historical document now.   

The wall I saw this on has been painted over and the space is being used to illustrate something else at the moment. What I like about this is the comparatively photo-realistic style, very little cartoonishness about it, and also little resembling caricature. And I don’t perceive any particular partisan statement here – it’s just to say, ‘This is what’s going on right now.’

The man on the left, wearing glasses, Moon Jae-in, was truly a man of the Left, a cabinet minister of the late President Roh, who himself  had attempted to carry forward the policies Kim Dae-jung, author of the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea, the set of initiatives aimed at eventual reconciliation with our weird neighbors to the north – had Mr. Moon carried the race, he probably would have gone on in the same fashion, as well as promoting a lot of social justice initiatives and working to curb the absurdly out of balance influence that chaebol industrial groups have in this country. (I was rooting for him, actually.)

The man on the right is not a politician at all and that’s one reason the public had shown such interest in him – as a third party candidate Ahn Chul-soo, a successful software entrepreneur, was widely seen as an indication of widespread disaffection with the political process. It was never entirely clear what he would have been likely to do if he had ended up in the Blue House. He easily landed a seat in the National Assembly earlier this year.

The woman in the middle, Park Guen-hye, was the ultimate victor in the contest. She has arguably been in politics longer than anyone, having served the role of de facto First Lady after her mother died from an assassin’s bullet meant for her father, the dictator Park Chun-hee. I’ve written about this woman before. The world has not actually ended, not yet anyway.


Street Art Hongdae 5

The part of Seoul around Hongik University (Yonsei and Sogang are also in the general area) is chock full bars and cute cafes, and unlike the rest of the country, which is in a sad mad race to see how similar each place can become, the largest bulk of energy people are expending goes to work on some aspect of what can be described as a creative impulse. The visual arts departments are very well respected at this college, and you might not be surprised to see galleries, studios both paint and photo, as well as audio recording and live music performing venues scattered all around.

The neighborhood changes all the time. I live fairly close, so I might bop around there several times a month, and usually a new cafe or restaurant or gallery has popped up that wasn’t there the last time. There are far too many coffee shops, but that’s not going to stop someone from opening another one next week. The major franchises are represented, sure, but most are one-off single-owner shops and many seem to want to experiment with interior design at least as much as concern themselves with brewing beans.


my heart

Graffiti is not considered vandalism around these parts, in fact there’s not much distinction made between tagging and public art, murals and the like, though of course like most art much of it is crap. (No surprise, Sturgeon’s Law tells us that 90% of everything is crap.) Even so, the worst of it is still preferable to an advertising billboard and some is good enough, you’ll feel a twinge of regret or even a slight sense of loss the next time you pass by and find that it has been painted over, as it all will eventually.

Impermanence is part of the appeal. Perhaps. One could argue, however, that anyone who owns a camera is not terribly entranced by the idea of the ephemeral. I do own a camera, and I grab images of things I see on walls, not only to share them, but also to preserve them for a while. A photograph of a painting is a different sort of artifact, of course.



Some of what you come across might have a message, but most just tries to brighten up the place. Banksy reminds us that aesthetics is a political act.   I hear he’s been in New York City recently, but if he came to Hongdae I’m not sure how many people would notice, because his fans here have been hard at work on his vision.

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.” ― BanksyWall and Piece

Diego Rivera put art on the sides of buildings, not anonymously or clandestinely, but by commission and to enhance his own fame, as artists generally do. He knew that the images would fall when the buildings did, and that likely at least some would be painted over, so he probably knew his work would not be eternal, and I think that very few people require this of art anymore. But he did feel that art needs to be available to everyone, and that we all need to have it around us in our daily lives, not just in posh galleries or in the homes of the very rich.



This one served the purpose of informing and introducing me to a female recording artist I had not previously been exposed to. I like what I hear. She’s been around for a while, I know, but I just wasn’t paying attention. Now, I am.

NOTE: This is a reprint of a photo essay I put together last November for my other blog. Yes, I have another blog. And occasionally I’m going to republish things here that I did there if it had anything to do with photography. Don’t worry. I promise not to do it very often. Next time will be something fresh, for sure.


2 thoughts on “on walls, in hongdae

  1. Pingback: resume | Bobster's Picture House

  2. Pingback: photography notes [ 4 ] | Bobster's Picture House

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