Q- So how long you been in Sri Lanka?
I’ve been in Sri Lanka for just over a year and a half after having lived in Korea since 2002. Moving here with my wife wasn’t all that hard, but we did have some adjusting to do. For example, the internet here is a lot slower, my bandwidth is capped (less jpron!), the power goes out a few times a week, and the kimchi isn’t very good, but our apartment has a killer view of the ocean and it’s a much more comfortable size than the shoe box we were living in Seoul.
Q- How was South Korea?
Seoul is a pretty radtacular place if you go in with an open mind. A sizable percentage of the expat population there bitch and moan a lot, but if you can get past having a shitty job, shitty boss, and less access to recreational substances it’s easy living.
Q- I bet. Where are you from originally? Why’d you leave?
I am originally from Toronto. A few days after graduating, a buddy of mine called me up and asked me if I wanted a job teaching English in Seoul. I asked him if there was any yayo in Seoul and seven days after him telling me there wasn’t I was in a classroom full of ten year old kids teaching English. I honestly thought I’d only be there for six months, but I ended up falling in love with the place.
Q- Did you manage to find any yayo?
I’d never looked for it. I kept busy drinking and exploring the city. The chance did come up about a year into my time there but I declined the offer. Mission accomplished.
Q- You say your work has no message or meaning, why’s that important?
Its not important. It’s just that I am often asked what my message or motive is and answering that I simply take photos isn’t good enough for a lot of people. It’s that de facto question everyone asks of a photographer and from what I can tell, the better a photographer can bullshit their answer, the more attention they get. Last week I was asked more than a few times about it, and it got me thinking that maybe I do need a message and I ended up smoking a pack of Golden Virginia on the balcony talking to myself about it. I concluded that it boils down to me not being able to eloquently phrase “I like capturing what’s around me”. Instead, I am expected to “like exploring the human element by”…I can’t even begin to move forward with that statement because it makes me feel sick. Why must I have something poignant to say about my photography!?
Q- It seems to me like you capture the glance, a seemingly insignificant moment unworthy of recognition - your photos represent the double-take.
I am not interested in always providing the most interesting photos of really interesting things. Cities everywhere, after living in them for a time, get boring. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’d do what I did if they lived some place more fun, cool, photo worthy. In my opinion, they’re just fucking lazy. Photography can be boring, so those seemingly insignificant moments happen far more often than the fucked up things that get published on FAIL blogs and in Vice. Those in-your-face photographers are trendy now, but they’re shit gets old, their style is unsustainable. My shit is going to remain seemingly insignificant forever.
Q- Wanky question, sorry, what’s your ‘style’?
Another de facto question I cringe at. I pack my bag, go for a walk or a tuktuk ride, take photos, and then edit them. My “style” comes out more after I’ve edited the shot. I’ve spent years tweaking my preset, and I like to think when someone sees a shot, they might know it’s mine. Moreover, I don’t really go out of my way to capture certain things, though I do like getting shots of people reading the newspaper. Seeing people read the newspaper gives me hope that society isn’t completely obsessed with reality TV and pop stars; though realistically, they could be reading about reality TV or pop stars. Fuck that would suck.
Q- Why is Korea trying to hide its ugly side?
I have to generalize to answer this question, but Koreans can’t understand why I would want to walk down a narrow ally in an old neighborhood to take photos. They want me walking through the newly erected areas and they want me to highlight all things shiny, sparkling and glamorous. I don’t actually think I am taking pictures of an “ugly side”. I do walk through shiny areas, but to get from one shiny area to the next, I inevitably walk through an older area that hasn’t gone through gentrification, or is in the process of gentrification. They don’t want me in those areas because development is often messy business and a lot of people don’t want those issues coming to light. Generally speaking, Koreans think my photos make Korea look dirty, poor, and depressing. Their impression of my photos is the complete opposite of what people outside Korea think my photos are showing them of Seoul.
Q- Did photography help you avoid being a lonely Canadian?
Wut? No. Not really. Street photography can be a pretty lonely hobby as I rarely interact with the people around me. I guess it’s less lonely than sitting at home watching TV, but it isn’t a very social experience.
Q- Personal travel photography has exploded, what do you hate about it?
Has it? I had no idea. I genuinely don’t hate most photography. I hate what most photographers write about their photography. In a lot of cases, I feel like they are compensating a weak shot by fucking blathering on and on about this or that. It’s sometimes painful to read.
Q- In a more compact sense; what’s wrong with most street photography?
I know Street Photography isn’t pictures of flowers in your back yard, raindrops on a window, cappuccino art, and photos with inspiring Helvetica text on them. On the whole, the scene is infected by the disease of writing about the photo, or even worse watermarking a photo. In fact, I almost always immediately ignore a shot that has a watermark on it. When I don’t, I try and tell the photographer how much I hate their watermark. Watermarks are for posers and stock photography sites. There is this mentality today that something profound needs to accompany the shot. It is infuriating that so many great photos out there include text that tells lies, exaggerations, and half-truths the photographer comes up with in the hope that their words will resonate with critics, editors, and curators, and worst of all, make their photo more compelling. Making a joke or sometimes writing something is fine, but there are photographers out there neck deep in that fucking nonsense.
Q- Why do you hate watermarking?
I despise watermarks. They’re ugly and useless. When I see a photo with a watermark words that come to mind are “amateur”, “poser”, and “giant ego”. Some might say I am arrogant for saying that, but I’m not arrogant enough to put a watermark on my photo! The only person who appreciates a watermark is the fuck who put it there. Then there is the camp who thinks a watermark is an “artist’s signature” and that it magically copyrights and protects the photo. I laugh at people like that. Most people who watermark put it in one of the corners. This makes no sense because if I really like the shot, and really want to steal it, I can just download it and crop it a bit. And at the end of the day, what is to stop someone from downloading my 72dpi picture, watermarking it, and then claiming it is theirs? The same fucking thing that stops anyone stealing a watermarked 72dpi photo: the original photo! In short, watermarking DOES NOT mean something is copyrighted or protected. It’s just a distraction from the picture and usually some text saying “HEY, LOOK AT MY NAME INSTEAD OF THIS PHOTO!!!”
I can appreciate photography on instagram, and I have a few friends who use it quite regularly. I myself don’t use it very often, but I don’t think services like that are threats to “photography”. I think they’re an additional outlet for people who want to be creative and we should probably embrace them.
Q- Is there pressure to be poignant with photography?
So there it is. The interview was a bit of email back-and-forth and a Skype conversation. To be fair, the dude who interviewed me was a freelance dude just doing his job. He genuinely appreciated my photography and was doing his best to get the interview up, but all his editor wanted was “Korean crime, grime and that shit”. In the end I just said that I didn’t see my photography as being negative, and for the editor to want me to gripe about crime/dirt/etc regarding Korea was a bit much for me. I just don’t see Seoul as a place like that. And to be honest, I have had to argue with Koreans enough about how my photography isn’t highlighting a negative side of Seoul that for his editor to want me to do it was kind of dickish. He understood and that was that.
Nevertheless, I asked if it was ok if I shared the Q&A with you, and he said “That’s totally cool, go for it!”