Monday, May. 11, 2009

Namdaemun Market

Korean photographer Jean Chung set out to reveal the traditional heart beating beneath the surface of this very modern city. Her first stop was Namdaemun, a teeming network of narrow lanes crowded with shops. The food vendors along this alley sell everything from Bi Bim Bop (a classic rice and vegetable dish) to rice cakes with chili paste (the yellow and red items in the rectangular steel tray, above). Jean has set her shuttle to 1/30th of a second, to capture the bustle of the market.

Namdaemun Market, Detail

The food stalls at Namdaemun work 24/7, but Chung recommends a visit in the morning. This shot was taken at 8 a.m., when the light from the signs balances evenly with the light from the sun.

Tea House

A little pricey by US standards — 7,000 to 8,000 won (about $5.60) for one cup, cookies and rice-cakes not included — Chung nevertheless suggests a stop at a traditional tea house, like Yet Cha Jip, above, located in the Insa-dong District. It is relaxing, healthy and very tasty. The tea flavors include chrysanthemum, date and ginger.

City Hall Square

A young boy jumps through the fountains in front of the municipal seat, the squat grey building in the background. In order to freeze him in mid-air, Chung has set her shutter speed at 1/4000 of a second.

Insa-dong Souvenir Shop

Chung was attracted to the light reflected off of these paper lanterns, on sale in a shop specializing in Buddhist items. To her, they represented a kind of kitsch. "No Korean," she says, "would put this in their house."

Royal Guards Procession

In an effort to recapture Seoul's deep historical roots, the city recently began to stage a changing of the guard ceremony in front of Deoksugung, its most famous ancient palace. On the day that Chung came to watch, the procession was superseded by a more important ceremonial event, forcing the marchers into the newer part of the city, and creating this striking contrast between ancient and modern.

Deoksu Palace

Over the centuries, much of Korea's historic architecture has suffered the ravages of war and fire. One of the few remaining gems is this 15th century palace, which was initially constructed to serve as a villa beside a larger palace. After that structure was burned down during a 1592 Japanese invasion, Deoksu was enlarging, even serving for a brief while as the principle seat of government. Its traditional beauty is challenging to photograph, for the park in which it resides is surrounded by modern structures. Chung has solved this problem by setting the focal length on her variable lens to 105mm and zooming in on the building's details.

N Seoul Tower Observation Deck

Formerly known as Namsan Tower, this massive communications beacon offers several vantage points from which to view the city from above. The lower one has become a gathering spot for couples who fasten metal locks to the deck's fence as a symbol of their eternal love for each other.

Lovers Locks, Detail

The custom of symbolically fastening locks to fences is not exclusive to the N Seoul Tower. Chung says that one can also find them in the DMZ, where they have been attached by families separated by the division of Korea.