Wanderlust #1: Seoul, Korea

WRITTEN BY: Elwin  06/07/2012 20:09

Since delving into the world of film photography a year and a half ago, taking pictures has become a bigger part of my travelling, than it used to be. A simple Canon Ixus used to settle all my photographic needs, but now I find myself packing rolls and rolls of film, flashes and batteries, spare cameras and a tripod - minor sacrifices in my opinion.


Seoul was my destination this June. Instead of the regular eating & shopping routine, I also set out to capture the essence of Seoul – its youth culture and city scenes in this positively lively part of the world.


A secondary agenda of mine was to perhaps procure yet another full-manual film camera. Korea, like Japan, has pre-loved cameras at excellent prices if you know where you're looking.


So I brought along my trusty Fed 5B, LC-A+, Kodak Ultramax 400 a bunch of Ilfords and a box of Lomography Lady Grey 400. Initially intending to shoot mostly in black and whites, I quickly realised my mistake. Seoul is a city much better captured in colour.





A little bit of research revealed that although film photography has not yet experienced a full revival in Seoul, the Chungmuro district in downtown Seoul is still home to many vintage camera shops and professional print makers. Naturally, it was the starting point for my hunt of a new companion.


I must have walked into almost a dozen different shops, and was greeted in Korean every single time. Only to have to apologetically reply "Sorry, no Korean. English?". It was no surprise that the shopkeepers were always misled due to my Chinese-Asian appearance. Most of the time, basic English was understood, but language really did not matter much. All I wanted was to find out the prices of the cameras, and perhaps fiddle around with those within my budget. So with a little bit of good-mannered gesturing, I began my 6-hour long hunt all around Chungmuro.




Shop after shop, I looked for bargains, distracted only twice by a Leica store and gallery, and a couple of shops that sold film. Finally, I settled on the Pentax MX for 2 reasons. Firstly, some of the units available carried the 50mm/1.4 kit lens. And secondly, a Nikon FM2 was way out of budget. I read online that cash helps, and true enough, you can get a better bargain by helping the merchants avoid credit card transaction fees.


While expanding the first roll (Portra 160), and with my experience with light reading on the Fed 5B. I became extremely suspicious of the lightmeter. It suggested settings I felt would cause major underexposure. True enough, I found out sometime later that I should have gone with my instincts. Thankfully though, I had faith in myself and only trusted the lightmeter for the first roll used. Disappointing, yes. But definitely a lesson learnt.


Excellent skin tones with Portra 160


Saturation and contrast turned up to 11 with the Ektachrome E100VS


Personally, I hate to have a fixed plan while travelling and shooting. I also prefer walking rather than taking buses and trains. This is where a data plan is pretty much essential for periodically checking your location on Google Maps. Moreover, online translators are excellent when trying to communicate with taxi drivers, waiters or salespersons. Not having to really worry about getting lost really helps in being completely immersed in an unfamiliar location. Unadulterated freedom.


And isn't that the feeling we're all so addicted to?


Keep wandering.



(All pictures taken by Elwin Tan)