▲ Seo Jae Chul explains how he captured the light in this image. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
One day in early summer, a young man was hiking on Mt. Halla when he came upon a beautiful field of azaleas blanketed by a thick fog. The lush colors combined with the incredible atmosphere made him think to himself: “I need to draw a picture or take a photo of this scene right now.”
In a moment of clarity, this future photographer and gallery owner chose the latter, and now, 40 years later, Seo Jae Chul is well known for his powerful photos of Jeju landscapes and people.
Having photographed the island myself for over 10 years, I have wanted to visit Mr. Seo’s Jayeon Sarang Gallery for a long time and I was not disappointed. Even in the brief time it took to walk with him around the first room in the gallery, I was left awe-inspired by his work.
▲ Seo Jae Chul. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
“If you walk down the side of that hill a little, you can block out the wind mills when composing your photo,” the youthful 65-year-old said to me in an authoritative voice as I stared at a stunning landscape image of a sunset over Mt. Halla, rays of light bathing the windswept grasses of nearby Ttarabi Oreum in beautiful golden light.
We walked on, passing breathtaking winter panoramas of Mt. Halla mixed in with expressive portraits of people in their daily environments. An excellent combination of strong leading lines, raw emotion, perfect light, brilliant, crisp colors, and sharpness of details were evident in each image.
As a young man, he had met a photographer who was using an old professional film camera. He had a chance to hold it in his hands and take a few pictures.
It was love at first sight.
He soon borrowed a similar camera and took several rolls of film with it. People loved his work and this inspired him to pursue a career in photography.
▲ The interior of the gallery. Photos by Douglas MacDonald
The “old school” photographer inside him remains, still using film despite the rapidly changing digital world around him. None of the images in his gallery have been manipulated in any way.
“These are the original photos the way they were on the day I captured them,” he proudly exclaimed.
My original intention had been to see some of his other work, a series of aerial photographs, and so, while he stepped outside for a few minutes, I entered a second room and was stunned by what I saw.
Taken without the help of a tripod and using fast shutter speeds from high above the landscape, Jeju is shown in a whole different light. Exotic patchworks of deep, green fields contrasted with the yellows of canola flowers and whites of pampas grass so prevalent on the island and dramatic, rocky coastlines pop out at the viewer with amazing “3D” clarity.
Mr. Seo returned and as we walked back to the entrance of the gallery, I asked him which photos mean the most to him.
“The ones I had to work the hardest to get,” he replied.
His advice for aspiring photographers?
“Words can be changed easily but photos capture a unique moment in time. Photos are reality ... decisive moments. Find those decisive moments.”
Decisive moments. I couldn’t have found better words to describe his beautiful work.
(Interpretation by Kim Jung Hee)
Jayeon Sarang Photo Gallery 1920-1 Gasi village, Pyoseon district, Seogwipo City Phone: 064-743-3360 Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily www.hallaphoto.co.kr
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