Seoul is a megacity by any standard. Although it is technically defined as a 600 square kilometre city of roughly 10,000,000 people, the capital area stretches over more than 10 times that land and houses half of the nation’s 50,000,000 residents. On a clear day, the view from Seoul Tower or the viewing deck at the Lotte Super Tower gives a real sense of the size of this city. But that is only the beginning. It is Seoul’s residents that truly make it what it is.
Since the end of the Korean war, Korea has transformed itself from a war-torn nation stricken with poverty to an economic superpower. On the outside, the glitz looks like it never ends and, if television dramas and K-Pop are to be believed, every citizen has a level of wealth that rivals even the most over-the-top hip-hop stars in history. However, one need only turn left instead of right to see the other side of the city.
Most do not live the way the stars do, although you wouldn’t know it from their social media profiles. Elderly poverty is some of the highest in the world, as are the suicide rates. Housing is more expensive in the capital than almost any city on the planet, and debt is high as people struggle to keep up appearances. The morning rush on the subway reveals the way people live. Little to no concern is given to anything except getting in a little respite before a day at the office begins.
This is not to say that Seoul is a terrible place, despite many in the younger generation nicknaming their country “Hell Chosun.” Like many large cities, it is a place where every level of wealth can found and struggling is the way of life. From the clean streets of downtown Jongno to the ten-to-a-room rental houses of Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul has it all.
This project started out as a way for me to learn my new camera, the Fujifilm X-T1 after I first bought it. Having the goal of documenting one district per day gave me the motivation I needed to get out of the house, learn my tool, and make photographs. As it progressed, I realised I was documenting the city in a different way. I was looking specifically for the things I knew would not be there again. The media is exceptionally good at showing us the gentrified side of Korea, but I wanted to give my viewers a look into another side of Korea.
I decided to continue working outside of my initial boundary of Dongdaemun-gu and start documenting other parts of the city as well. So, over the past three years, I have finished documenting Jung-gu, started documenting Seodaemun-gu, and ventured into the downtown of Jongno-gu. As the project progresses, expect this site to grow. When I have documented a district, it will also appear as a book in the store here.