Life from the outside in Seoul, seen through the perspective of photoblogger, Jackson Ellis.

I arrived at Gimpo airport – the not so flash landing port that was in use prior to the World Cup games – on a sub-zero October morning in 2001. The world had just gone through a major and unwanted transformation. The attacks on New York and Washington had shaken up most folk, and made traveling that bit more of a nervous exercise.

As an Irish born Australian, minus 15 degrees (5 Fahrenheit) temperatures were the first unfamiliarity to be encountered in South Korea. The second was parades of military police and other security personnel, patrolling the airport, in an unwelcoming fashion.

Why here? Why Korea? I reminded myself that my new wife was Korean, and I’d come here to meet her family and friends, and hopefully learn some more about her cultural background.

My first significant creative project in Korea was the making of a documentary about the infamous ex-pat magnet of Itaewon. I made this work with a couple of Canadians, and it went on to showcase at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival. It was the beginning of great things in Korea. I’d found a couple of creative partners, and there was no stopping us!

Unfortunately, both Mark and Andy thereafter returned to Canada, to pursue other things. I put on my thinking cap, and decided to give photography another try. Having been very passionate about the medium in Dublin, some ten years earlier, I’d swung more towards film and video in recent years.

Unfortunately, both Mark and Andy thereafter returned to Canada, to pursue other things. I put on my thinking cap, and decided to give photography another try. Having been very passionate about the medium in Dublin, some ten years earlier, I’d swung more towards film and video in recent years.

I continued to use bulk rolls of black and white film, which I’d sourced in a camera shop in Seoul. Development was carried out in a small DIY home lab. I was happy enough with the results, but there was a lack of direction in my work, and with limited funds, it was hard to show what I’d achieved to the world outside my negative storage shoebox.

At the time, digital technologies were becoming more accessible, of higher quality, and of course, more affordable. My friends in other countries had experimented with high-end compacts and entry dSLRs, and were excited with the results. I became aware of Pixelpost, and the emerging phenomenon of “photoblogging”. Gradually, I began to see the strengths and exciting possibilities of self-publishing digital images on a regular or daily basis.

I purchased a digital compact and after some experimentation and familiarity with the medium, began to photoblog.

Personally, the practice has been very empowering. It has opened up doors to me, in a creative sense, and has even led to other forms of publishing and exhibition. It would be unfair to talk about my work per-se, without acknowledging the part that photoblogging has played in my photographic advancement.

However, with this much said, the images themselves are of greatest importance, and what is behind them: in other words, “Why an image of this, or that? Why not an image of the other?”

In my experience, one can become so thoroughly absorbed in image-making, or creativity, that one loses a sense of reason. It may be only afterwards, if at all, that the artist fully understands the significance and meaning of their activities. That is of course, if the work has any significance above the stream of “ordinary” life.

Having fully absorbed myself in image making, for some time; it was suggested to me, by many friends in the arts, that I should stick to a particular “theme” with my work; suggesting that it may have been too eclectic, as a body of work.

I resisted these suggestions, and it was always based on the notion that photoblogging, as a relatively new form of delivery, was not bound by a specific, formal set of rules. It’s as much a visual diary, as it is a means of publicizing one’s work. As such, it follows the ebb and flow of change, change which is present in life itself and the twists and turns that one follows in the course of that life.

It was sometime in September 2005, when I decided to work towards holding an exhibition in a gallery space, that I began to sense where my friends had been coming from, and the altering track that I had been following with my photoblog.

I began re-tracing my steps, in a visual sense, to see if I could find common treads in my own work, threads of ideas which could go on to form a specific thesis, which could then be presented as a closed set of images, in the traditional gallery space.

In fact, the exercise of creating limitations on what I could and couldn’t show was a productive one. I realized that there were certain threads which were running through my work, and began to identify subjects which were important to me, and ones, which were not. This may seem like an obvious discovery, or something that should immediately be known by an image maker. However, above and beyond what I had been doing and had been aware of, on a conscious level, there were other themes, which had not been immediately obvious to me while photoblogging.

It seemed that I had certainly been attempting to reach out to my subjects, to identify with them, through the camera, as such. The people who I usually chose to photograph, were somehow isolated, or living through a struggle. The images told of certain isolation, one which is symptomatic of city life. Therein lies a contradiction, where the city is full of people, but many of whom feel acute loneliness and isolation.

Actually, in my own feelings of displacement, at being in a place so unfamiliar, perhaps I was attempting to understand my subjects’ isolation, in relation to my own.

I then began considering the causes of this isolation, in a more universal sense. If it is tangible, then there must be a certain cause, or causes for it. Naturally, this is a complex subject matter, and deserves an in-depth discussion: however, in summary of my own personal conclusions, I understand this isolation to stem from political and economic causes. To be more specific, it appears that people have been under increased pressure, and that this pressure manifests itself through isolation. The source of the additional pressure appears to be economically driven, in order to increase profits, and continually create new needs and desires within people. Therefore, there is often a juxtaposition of media elements and individuals in my work.

This is not to state that my work rests on a single premise, and that I have sought to explore a single message. It is very possible, in fact, inevitable, that each viewer will bring their own interpretations to the work, and see things that I have not seen myself.

And this brings me to the present. Having re-located to Melbourne, Australia, I now find myself with a completely new set of parameters to work with. There are a new host of unfamiliar things, being yet again in a new city, a new place.

I have decided to leave the name of my photoblog unchanged. “Daily Observations from Korea”, is where a revolution in my own work took place, and despite having moved away from Korea, there is a certain onus, on my part, to acknowledge the personal artistic development, which took place there.

I invite you to follow the developments at DOFK, and will continue to update the site on a daily basis.




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