Korea, Urban Walking
Comments 4

Three Godfathers (Scene from a Stroll #5)

For a while there I was spending part of every weekend in Busan, improvising fascinating little journeys through the alleys, the crowded street markets and up the slopes of the ubiquitous small mountains sprouting out of just about every district. Early Spring in particular was a great time for these jaunts. All of those little peaks were ablaze with cherry and camellia blossom; the parks and patches of half-wild woodland were green and fresh and moist.

Illness has curtailed my exploration for a couple of weeks, but tomorrow I’m venturing back to meet a couple of friends of a Brisbane friend who have been cycling through Korea for a month or so. I’ve never met them but am looking forward to speaking my first real English in over four months (if Australian English counts). I’m curious about their impressions of this perplexing place, which is, frankly, hazardous enough for a hardcore pedestrian to negotiate — I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking cycling through it must be.

We’re going to meet in Nampo-dong, the bustling district adjoining the Jagalchi fish markets. I’ve had a few great afternoons in the street markets there, practising my street photography in the last half-hour of daylight: women hunched over sewing machines, fortune-tellers in a street full of gaudy tents, shoppers browsing through the cheap clothes and other goods (I got a leather camera bag for $20), and most of all people eating. I find most of the food in Korea utterly unappetising to look at, smell or consume, but I’m obviously the only one in the country that feels like that.

Also in the Nampo area is BIFF Square, home of the Busan International Film Festival, which enjoys a pretty good reputation worldwide. Though I’d heard about the festival through students in my classes in Australia, I came upon the place, with its cinemas and — yes — food stalls, by happy accident. I enjoyed the handprints, set in concrete, of film celebs like Wim Wenders, Nick Nolte, Jeremy Irons  and Costa Garvras. Squatting down to try to photograph them beneath hundreds of rushing feet is not for the faint-hearted.

Nearby there was this statue of a guy in a beret crouched over an antique movie camera. Noticing how many passersby stopped for a closer look, I decided to set a trap. Standing behind it, with my camera hanging at my waist and the tilt-screen extended, I set the focus and waited, pretending I was fussing over the controls. I took a lot of pictures, many unusable, but I loved the way this one turned out. In fact it’s my favourite of all my Korean shots so far:

The scooter and Beret Man gave me some foreground, and these three stepped into frame with almost cinematic swagger, the pre-sunset sidelight in their faces — and the triangular perfection of their stances. I imagined they were gangsters, the one at the front the local kingpin (let’s call him Mr Won, the Nampo-Dong Don), his offsider the sneering Killer Kim and their long-serving faithful bodyguard at the rear, nervously scanning the noodle stands for possible ambush.

See how infectious that BIFF spirit is? For a few seconds there I was the Scorsese of South Gyeongsang Province.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. A super post. Very well-written. I completely agree with your interpretation of the image. I haven’t tried your nonchalant pose for street photography. I am quite pathetic, instinctively adopting the “I am very embarrassed and I hope you won’t mind” stance which instantly makes me about ten times more noticeable than if I had just taken the shot.

    • Thanks, Rachael. I was back in the Nampo area yesterday. This time I had to adapt my strategy to fit in with the fast-moving tide of people in the fish markets — shooting from the hip at these terrifying fishwives. You don’t want to get caught aiming a camera at those ladies!

  2. That’s a great photo. It makes all those dud shots worthwhile when you pull something like that off. Digital is great for that reason! You better put a watermark on it as it could get knocked off? Is that a bit too over the top?!

    • Thanks, Greg. I think my ratio of keepers to discards is improving slightly, but with the street shots there’s still a lot of luck involved. It’s a nerve-wracking business too.

      I’m kinda hoping that shot turns up in some cheap suits warehouse catalogue!

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