For this month’s installment of local street photography, we actually leave the streets of Gwangju to venture southward to Wando. However, after arriving, we must continue our journey by boarding a mid-sized vehicle ferry bound for Changdo Island, an hour’s ride from this southern coastal town. If climbing to the ship’s rooftop deck, we may just see a scene like the one above.
In this photo, a man rests against the railing, seemingly unbothered by the chilly ocean winds sweeping ashore this weekday afternoon. We see him through the descending canopies of wooden Jung-jas, or wooden platforms. While likely engaged with the latest smartphone game or a life-or-death Kakaotalk moment, his actions are not surprising. It is these two platforms though, which seem entirely out of place in this moment. Usually found at the crux of country roads, ridgelines or farmer’s fields, these structures are ubiquitous throughout the southern part of Jeolla-do, and elsewhere around the peninsula. Often constructed ad-hoc from materials scrounged from local dumps, these structures hint at the communal aspects of an agrarian past which has become increasingly difficult to see. For, when driving around the countryside these days, many are left unused, or occupied by an increasingly dwindling number of locals.
Despite their perch atop this ferry, these platforms seem somewhat integral to the scene above. In the distance we can see the last of Wando harbor as the boat chugs ahead towards the islands beyond. While the man is engaged in his electronic devise, he nevertheless functions as a bridge of sorts between the nature beyond, and the reproduced hints at a more ‘natural’, agrarian past. When looking carefully, we can see such occurrences often in our lives around Gwangju. While our region still serves as the breadbasket (ricebowl?) of South Korea, visual reminders of communal action with nature related to farming are often underutilized, if not ignored entirely. However, when reproduced through an intentional Disney-fication of nature and an agrarian past, such platforms are once again considered culturally safe for use, albeit this time by a younger generation. For, while the absurd location of these platforms provides a comfortable amount of removal from the past, their communal function remains. In fact, several moments after this photo was taken, half a dozen brave souls, mostly of younger ages, occupied these structures with cigarettes and smartphones in hand, sharing their days with these structures just as intended.
[Image taken on Kodak Tri-x 400 with my Contax T2.]
(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)