Absence, Photography, and Friendship

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Nick and Junku, Iksan 2017.

I haven’t been here for a while. Truth be told I have been super busy of late. In June and July I hosted friends for nearly both months. I taught two workshops in July with Wearethestreet and Leica Korea.

Needless to say, it has been a wild ride.

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Matt, Iksan 2017. AKA Endlessproof

The whole thing started with Matt.

Matt “Endlessproof” Martin came to stay with me in June. We have been close friends for quite a long time and it was his first time coming to Korea.

He brought me a gift when he came.

An old film camera.

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Matt in Busan. 2017.

Truth further being told, I had been in a bit of a rut. For the couple of months leading up to Matt’s arrival we had talked constantly about how both of us felt a lull. I was using a digital Leica that was part of a deal I was doing with them and I felt like I had lost a lot of my photographic “soul..” I didn’t see anything I wanted to take pictures of.

It had been several months since I had shot any film. My M3 was sitting at my friend’s shop in Seoul where I had left it and never had bothered retrieving. I was barely taking any photos. Barely wanted to take any.

After getting the film camera (Pentax MX) I shot a roll kind of quickly. I developed it right away. It was mostly photos of Matt. When I was putting the negatives in a binder I was reminded of something.

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Nick in Seoul. 2017.

Flash forward a week.

At this point, the other members of Wearethestreet started arriving in Seoul. Of the members, Nicholas Dominic Talvola and I are closest. Matt and I took a train to Seoul to spend the first weekend together with the gents and teach the first workshop with Leica.

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Junku and Nick, Seoul. 2017. Night 1.

Much like you’d imagine the first several nights looked like above. We partied hard. The funny thing about all the alcohol was I realized the drunker I got the more likely I was to reach for the film camera. Seems counter intuitive considering the “risk.” I don’t mean the risk of ruining my camera but the risk of “wasting” a frame.

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Nick on the train. Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul. 2017.

It is interesting, that. The idea of wasting a frame. I often hear people say things like that.

“Why waste a frame on a picture of me?”

The irony is, I think the wasted frames for me are the ones I take on the street.

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Bubbles and Ricky. Iksan 2017.  It says, “everything will be okay..”

Photos like the one above, for example, are the opposite. During the month Nick lived with me we spent half of our time watching Trailer Park Boys and drinking at home. It was even weird to me that I’d reach for a film camera here over a digital one. Seems like an iPhone photo. People always tell me their iPhone is a camera “just” for memories.

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Junku Nishimura. Iksan, 2017.

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Junku Nishimura, Iksan 2017.

What does that mean? A camera “just” for memories. The thing putting those first negatives from the camera Matt gave me into the binder reminded me of was that photography was made to record memories. It was made so that we could have a physical record. Something we can touch.

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“Brother” Sean Lotman. Seoul, 2017.

Flash forward a month.

I had let the negatives pile up again. I develop almost right away but generally my negatives collect in a plastic container next to my desk. The month and a half since Matt first arrived had flown by. Lots of things had happened in that time. I sat looking at that pile of negatives and a lot of things sort of came together. The fog that had been over my brain and the haze of the prior 6 weeks suddenly cleared.

Dramatic, I know.

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Nick on my floor. Iksan, 2017.

Flashback 2 weeks.

Nick and I were watching Trailer Park Boys and I took that photo of the screen. Nick turned to me and said something like,

“I noticed you seem to take photos of things you care about with the film camera. I remember you had that M3 that you loved so much, what happened to it?”

I’ve had a lot of GAS in my life. I’ve had a lot of spurts with buying and selling cameras. If you’re reading this you’ve probably read about lots of them. The Leica M3 he was talking about was a camera I bought some time ago and always seemed to be around. It is a beater of a camera but works wonderfully.

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In the elevator. Iksan, 2017.

Two days later.

I saw her in the elevator of my building.

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In the elevator. Iksan, 2017.

I dug her dress. It was a great dress. I wanted to take pictures of it. At least a couple. She didn’t seem too annoyed and was just on her phone.

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Iksan, 2017.

I followed her outside to the courtyard. I couldn’t get enough of that dress.

From another time was that dress. She was from another time.

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Iksan, 2017.

I couldn’t help it. I had to ask.

I don’t know what it is but these moments feel more special when I look at a contact sheet as opposed to a Lightroom library. I feel like that piece of plastic was there with me in that moment. The light from that actual moment is melted there.

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Iksan, 2017.

It is all hipster nonsense really. I suppose it is anyway. It must be.

Right?

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Nick in Gwanju. 2017.

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Gwangju helper, 2017.

Flash forward two weeks.

Nick and I are in Gwangju. Gwangju is a city South of Seoul. I won’t get into why this city is famous, but it has a deep and interesting story. We somehow got roped into teaching art in the World Youth Festival being held there.

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Nick painting in Gwangju, 2017.

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Nick painting in Gwangju, 2017.

We spent the first day in the blistering heat. It was 40* centigrade the entire day. At night, it cooled to 30-35. Nick spent the day painting and drinking soju. I watched as I would have to do the painting the following two days. It was also Nick’s last day in Korea.

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Nick leaving Korea. 2017.

Nick left the next day. For nearly two months I had been with friends. More than friends really. The older I’ve gotten the more I have realized that friends can be more like family than actual family.

Nick and Matt, they are my brothers.

Flash forward to yesterday.

I saw the negatives sitting in that plastic container next to my desk. My new Alienware computer had just arrived and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to scan. Weird though, I just ended up looking at them for hours. When I sort my negatives I basically throw out any strips that are boring or don’t have anything “good” on them. I ended up throwing out all the photos of people in the streets that I didn’t know. Those photos don’t matter much to me.

Looking through a story line of negatives from the 60 or so days I felt a lot. I laughed a lot and I cried. I felt happy and I felt sad. I felt something from each of them. It was 4 AM before I realized. I was still looking.

There were only 7 rolls.

Photos are never “just” memories.

Memories are never “just” memories.

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Cooking at home in Iksan, 2017.

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Nick at a noodle restaurant. Iksan, 2017.

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Junku before the workshop, 2017. Leica Store Gangnam.

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Nick and Jo, Seoul 2017.

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Matt, Iksan 2017.

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Matt’s first Mokgeolli, Iksan 2017.

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Morning practice, 2017.

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4AM, Iksan 2017.

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Seoul Seven Eleven, 2017.

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Korean hair cut, Iksan 2017.

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Matt’s last night in Iksan, 2017.

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Mirror selfie 1. Iksan, 2017.

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Mirror selfie 2. Iksan, 2017.

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Mirror selfie 3. Iksan, 2017.

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Raw beef Bibbimbab, Jeonju 2017.

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Last photo. Iksan, 2017.

10 thoughts on “Absence, Photography, and Friendship

  1. Amazing, touching personal photos!

    And no hipster nonsense – Film is real, digital is just pictures.

    You hit a chord in my soul there I think. I take too many (almost exclusively) photos of strangers, of streets, of buildings and things that do not really really relate to me. I guess I’ll start annoying family and friends with my camera now… thanks

  2. My brother.

    You almost make me cry. To tell you the truth I’m so happy your back into film, it was depressing me to see your photos on digital, that may sound vein and shallow but I feel your film photos to the bone.

    Brother spoko

  3. I agree with Frank, and somewhat strangely, reading this article and the expression of your feeling around the sense of attachment to film and distance from digital, struck an epiphanic chord with me. For me at least, I have found digital, whilst initially liberating, making a significant contribution to my growing apathy around picture taking/making. I suspect many of us who follow your work and thoughts can relate to and identify with many of these questions and the answers you arrive at. The recurring question for me is, why am I doing this, as it invariably feels like I’m making myself take pictures without any real reason or connection to myself. I believe film for me helps in reconnecting with the reason why, the subject and the final image in a very physical as well as emotional sense. More hipster nonsense? quite possibly 😉

  4. I love this series and what you say here, Josh, about shooting meaninful pictures and what those are, friendship-celebrating ones, is deeply touching. You are celebrating closeness, and indeed what are we without closeness?
    Film vs/ digital, I don’t know that it matters as much as the subject. But if the ‘preciousness’ of a tangible output makes you more deliberate in your shooting, why not…
    Thanks for getting back to this blog!

  5. Seems like this last couple of months have been a pivotal moment for you, photography wise. Taking photos of those closest to us can give our photography a reboot in times of a lull, I too have felt this. There is less pressure to please an audience, you only have yourself to please, from such things more soulful images emerge… a time to treasure.

  6. No matter what you’re shooting, film or digital, this was truly touching, and the photos are souful life keepers, a true celebration of friendship and art, which is so rare to see.

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