TIME: Humanity in Eight Eighths


SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.

It was a priceless half-hour crouched awkwardly across from this white bungalow. The set was taken at around Christmas time, on one of the coldest days of winter last year (fully charged batteries lasted no longer than 2-3 hours).

But work produced in memorable circumstances certainly take on more personal meaning.


Phil Cousineau, “For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris”

It was given to me on a bookmark, each word of the poem spilling onto the next on both densely writ-in cardboard sides. I’d got it from the old barber around the corner of the street I used to live on, who’d been keeping it for a friend and had told me he no longer had need of it. The gravity of that statement, I have only recently come to grasp.

I lost the bookmark on a rainy day a year ago today, but the poem has stuck with me. It’s a treasure, reposed in the author’s lifelong collection of poetry titled The Blue Museum.

The following belongs, in my traced memory, to the friend of the old barber who perhaps never made it to Paris.

For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris

Phil Cousineau, for Richard Beban

For my father who never made it to Paris
I meet friends late at night in smokey cafes
To drink frothy cappuccino and listen
To Coltrane sax solos on old jukeboxes
And talk of the wounds
Of fathers and sons

For fathers and sons
Who never returned home,
I reach down for words to express my grief,
Like an emergency ward surgeon groping
For stray sharpnel in the flesh
Of bleeding loved ones.

For all the words never found between men,
The buried burning words slowly infecting us,
I drop quarters in no-name bar telephones.
To call suicidal friends, distraught fathers,
Lone wolf sons who howl at the indifference of the moon,
And offer the round table of brotherhood.

For all the tumors caused by sorrow,
And all the ulcers formed by anger,
For all the nightmares wrought by rage,
And all the emptiness carved by despair,
I probe friends and family
For healing stories.

For my father and all fathers
Who never saw Paris,
One friend listens, reveals,
Reaches in an open wound,
Finds a piece of gold shrapnel,
Cashes it in for airfare,
Takes his father to the Left Bank.

So the healing
Can begin.

Paris, 1986

Photography: Alex J. | SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.

Thinking Colour

SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.

The above photographs were taken with the intention of capturing colour. More precisely, I’d been working with the assignment — “colour in unexpected places” — that a friend had given me. It was a particularly novel experience since, in the past half a year of getting more into street photography, I have rarely shot in colour.

Most famously, perhaps, Henri Cartier-Bresson shot exclusively in black-and-white. The tale has it that he shot in colour on a few occasions, but never liked the results enough to show them to the public. During a conversation with a street photographer I met while out on a walk, the subject of the talk came to why I preferred black-and-white photography. We see in colour, experience things in colour, remember in colour. Colour also has the capacity to preserve the subtle details of the scene that would otherwise be lost in monochrome. And its potency in triggering certain emotional and subconscious reactions can be immense. I personally tend to recall more vividly the “snap-moment” of colour photographs. Indeed, I find shooting in black-and-white an entirely different exercise, since then I’m seeing in black-and-white — in terms of light and dark contrasts and in terms of situation.

The answer I gave was that I liked the simplicity of palette. Rethinking the question, I might add that I’m drawn to the gap the absence of colour creates between the photograph and reality. My focus, at least for now, is on the goings-on within the frame; and insofar as black-and-white isolates the situation from what it was in experience, I can embrace that for the sake of the personal message.

Subject to Object

Photos I, IV: SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.
Photo II: SOUTH KOREA. Busan. 2013.
Photo III: SOUTH KOREA. Bundang. 2013.

Photography is a still. By this I mean that, regardless of the motion–unless the motion itself is part of the capture–the subjects photographed are necessarily also objects in the scene. The relationship in the shot with the man juxtaposed with the lighthouse is, in this sense, not man-lighthouse but object-object. Then there are such inanimate objects as mannequins which, in photographs, take on a personality. Photography conflates the two.

I was never really interested in street photography until the combination of an excellent art history class on 20th-century photography and an awesome friend got me into it. Over last year’s winter break that I spent in Korea, I started randomly wandering the streets and shooting scenes I found interesting. The temperature often fell quite far below zero; I remember being paranoid about having my camera malfunction, since I knew even less about handling cameras properly then than I do now. I’m still not too far along, but already in retrospect I’m convinced that getting into street photography was probably one of the best decisions of my life. Hopefully I’ll see progress as I carry on with the blog.