To those who visited downtown Gwangju often enough, the photo above can be easily placed. However, to others, this might prove a more difficult task.
With their backs turned, the subjects themselves could be placed at any of a thousand semi-urban locations. The mountains beyond also show their ubiquitous presence in many similar photos taken around the peninsula. The long wall which runs behind these men is also fails to adequately place the scene. However, when looking to the cityscape beyond, we finally see hints which can situate this photo within Gwangju City. Of these, the pointed rooftops of the Josun University campus stand out most prominently. At a steep angle, this series of connected pyramidal shapes is unique to this campus, this city, and to my knowledge, any other major urban center nearby. The stark white paint covering these shapes equally sets the large building apart from the organic swirls on the mountain behind it.
The men pictured seem unbothered by any dispute of place. They know where they are. And, we, the viewers can rightly guess at their actions. The two men standing atop the bench are likely checking out a game or app on the left-man’s phone. Perhaps a friend, the right-most man is likely people-watching, drinking an instant coffee or entranced by his own personal glowing screen. The reality of their actions is in the viewers mind alone. And, it may not matter that the standing couple were fiddling with a remote control for a drone flying overhead while the rightmost man watched. What is left out of this picture speaks more to our own familiarity with such places in Gwangju and in Korea on the whole. For us photographers, it is up to us to imagine what each photo can become through what we choose it not to show. When lucky, the eyes we carry during our normal waking lives open wider as a result.
[Image taken with my Ricohmattic 225 shooting Kodak Portra 400.]
(Photo and Text by Marty Miller)