workshop notes ( 2 )


If you want to read the first installment of this series – and you should, you should want to – you can click here.

I believe Zaha Hadid’s buildings are actually sculptures, very large works of art that people can walk around and go inside of. As it goes with art, it’s not unusual for several people to have wildly divergent reactions to any particular work.

My own feeling is that when it is good, it will fascinate. And, even while doing that, it sometimes unsettles. Among Koreans and also among those of us in the expatriate community, there exist a variety of opinions regarding the DDP.

It was April 13 when our group made its first trip to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and it was also my second one. (We would later make one more, that time at night.) I had made a specific effort to see the place about 10 days previous to this because I’d heard things that piqued my interest, but I had not stayed long on that day. I remember feeling a bit uneasy, just the faintest bit creeped-out, and I thought it was just something going on in my mind at the time. I didn’t have any compelling reason to hang around and examine the causes of these emotions, so instead I got across the street and started exploring the old market areas that I love so much. I thought I would probably go back sometime but I wasn’t in any hurry to.


one of the the old market areas that I love so much

Apparently the DDP has the distinction of being the largest asymmetrical structure in the world, and consequently you can get wildly different perspectives of the place without a lot of walking. I think it might be why photographers love it and to my knowledge I was the only member of our group to feel less than enthusiastic about it all. Regardless, though, even with 8 or 9 others in the group that day I had no doubt at all that there would not be a lot of similarity between the finished products of our images.

We were told not to see the place as a building but rather to concentrate on the lines and curves and use these elements as raw material to make something uniquely our own. As indicated above, my own feelings about the place what are somewhat complicated, and in the end I was somewhat annoyed at having to stay for 3 hours there. At one point, I took a cigarette break – you have to step off of the premises in order to light up – and I took some relief from the artificial environment by grabbing some shots of a street musician playing saxophone on the corner.


he posed for me

I got something like revenge (whether on our teacher or Ms Hadid it’s hard to say) once I started processing the shots at home. I had decided by then what my personal vision of the place was: I played with darkness controls and contrast and tried to reproduce feelings of foreboding and menace, and had a little fun thinking of titles for the shots that would illustrate those emotions. Hence, ‘Mauve Malignancy’ and ‘Organic Peril’ and ‘Permanent Grief’ and ‘Ancient Agnosticisms.’ I’ve collected all the shots from the DDP in an album at Flickr, some shot on this day or the previous visit, or our final class for the April session.

In the end, I sent an email to Ms Reimer expressing gratitude. If I had not been required to stay in that place I probably would never have gotten around to clarifying my thoughts and emotions about it. She replied that, Yes, in order to really understand a place you do have to spend some time in it. Okay, now I know.

Our third session was April 20th at Seonyudo. This park is close enough to my apartment that I was able to walk there and of course it’s a place that I had already visited many times with my camera. It’s an island of the Han River and in a previous life it served as the site of the sewage treatment plant. The design team that had been tasked with the makeover chose not to completely demolish many structures that had fallen into disrepair and instead incorporated much of what had already been there into a new and somewhat unique landscape design, unique at least insofar as using elements unique to this place.


 radiation 2

Reflecting pools, with water lilies floating and verdant long and spiky leaves projecting out from rectangular cement containment vats lay directly to our right as we entered the place, and not far off we could hear a loud chorus of bull frogs. We were told to find small things to notice – as with the previous week, it is not architectural or landscape photography that we are after, but rather we want to use the existing raw materials of what others have designed (or that exist in a natural state) as tools with which to impose our own notions. My own challenge was to find some way of seeing it all that might be fresh and new, considering since I had been here before with my camera.

This week we had an exercise, a task to accomplish. The teacher gave us a piece of aluminum foil and told us to incorporate it in some way into the composition of whatever we were shooting; crumple it, shape it , or use its reflectivity to bounce light around, whatever, be creative, kids … I’m afraid all I could think of to do was place it at the intersection of some perspective lines, to make that focus point hold attention a little bit more.


angles and foil

In the end I was happy with about 3 shots that I got that day, and I decided to label those as a short series, Radiation, because they all had lines moving outward or inward. It was also an attempt at a sort of ironic contraction of concepts, since they were all natural world imagery but then I played with the textures to create an impression of something mechanical, perhaps atomic … with some others I sought something like pure abstraction by pulling bits of rusted metal and stained concrete out of their normal context, and that might have come a little closer to what I wanted.

Even better, I got a quick text from the teacher later, telling me: “Good work, Robert. Getting more and more artistic.”

Got that? Not just more artistic, but more and more.

This one is the kind of thing I usually go looking for on my own. Still not sure … is it art yet?



1 thought on “workshop notes ( 2 )

  1. Pingback: workshop notes ( 3 ) | Bobster's Picture House

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