Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SUMMER OF LOVE: My Rock Star Life in Korea

I was in Korea for eight days and came limping home, barely able to walk. Somewhere around the second day my back froze up and got worse as the trip progressed, yet the schedule continued unabated. Perhaps I should have stopped jumping and running and bouncing off the walls, but I couldn’t help myself. I was having too much fun!

I was experiencing an once-in-a-lifetime moment. For the second consecutive summer, my photography is being exhibited in a solo show at the Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, while a second solo show is running simultaneously a few hundred miles away at Yeulmaru Museum in Yeosu City.

As if this wasn’t enough of a thrill, I also had the great fortune to photograph some of the most celebrated dancers and athletes in Korea.

What made this trip the most rewarding experience of my career was the incredible sponsorship of the U.S. Embassy Seoul. They brought me to Korea as an art envoy, and gave me the opportunity to speak to a wide range of large, enthusiastic audiences - children, adults, high school and college students, celebrities, and all kinds of photo enthusiasts. The excitement of the crowds matched my own.

I signed lots of autographs…

Some of them in very interesting places.

Sometimes the pace would slow down enough for me to do a quick interview…

And then the party would begin again.

Perhaps the most inspiring lecture of my trip was also the least attended - I had the great honor to join a classroom of blind photographers. I observed their work and discussed my own. I will never forget that day.

In addition to giving me an exciting and diverse schedule of events, the Embassy offered me the opportunity to shoot the U.S Ambassador’s official portrait.

Then I had a few minutes with the Ambassador, his official vehicle and four Marines. There are not many times a photographer gets to do something completely new, but this was one such opportunity. The Embassy encouraged me to be creative, and I decided to have the Marines competing to open the Ambassador’s door. I showed them what to do...

And then they did it…. much, much better.

Finally, a moment that touched my heart. I was on Jeju Island, talking to 200 high school students. I asked if there were any dancers or athletes in the audience, and everyone started chanting, “Taekwondo, Taekwondo!!” A shy young man raised his hand. When I discovered that he is a black belt, I invited him onstage to see his moves.

When he kicked my hand it blew my mind. I announced that we absolutely HAD to do a spontaneous shoot right then. He ran to get his uniform as all 200 of us piled into the school library. Korean students study extremely hard and I kept hearing about how much stress they feel to succeed. It's leading to a great amount of anxiety throughout the culture, and I wanted to take a photo, titled "Study Break," that reflected a bit of rebellion against this attitude. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Thank you, Korea. The back pain will subside, but the memories never will!


I would like to thank to entire staff at Savina Museum for curating another fantastic exhibition, and to Savina herself for giving me the rare honor of two solo exhibits in one year.

The Embassy team I traveled with was unbelievable. My incredible interpreter, Seo Kyung PARK, kept pace with my caffeine-induced adrenaline and never slowed me down. The perfect Jong Chan KIM took most of the great behind-the-scenes photographs you’ve seen here. Their intern, Young Ah KIM, was indispensible and full of enthusiasm. The Senior Public Affairs Specialist, Eun Kyong CHOI, was Superwoman - she organized every event and never missed even the smallest detail (down to two cups of coffee on the podium). And their boss, Margaret Hawley, rocked my world - she set the creative and upbeat tone for the week. I would return to Seoul anytime, even if we didn’t have any events scheduled. Just hanging out with these folks was worth the fourteen-hour plane ride.

Finally, my gratitude to the many incredible performers who took time to meet with and pose for me: From the World Taekwondo Federation: Jeon Chan Hyek, Lee Joo Ho, Kim Han Byeol, and Cho Han Wool. From the KoreanNational Contemporary Dance Company: Kim Ho Yeon, Choi Min Sun, Ye Hyo Seung, and Han Sang Ruly. Korean B-boys: Differ KIM, KIM Heon Woo, and KIM Heon Jun. From the celebrity photographer’s club POP-KON: Ok Dong Ja, Su Rin HAN, and Jang Kun PARK.

And, of course, the elegant Joo Won KIM of the Korean National Ballet.