One of my dreams since moving to Korea has been to visit the Tripitaka Koreana, a complete wood carving of the Tripitaka at Haeinsa. I finally got a chance this year while on a shoot in Hapcheon-gun for a long term client. The post-monsoon weather was just perfect for a drive in the mountains and the excitement built as we sped down the highway towards the temple. Haeinsa is nestled in amongst dozens of smaller temples and grottos deep inside Gayasan National Park.
Being someone who is very much about the journey and not the destination, I did absolutely no research before heading into the mountains. My good friend Roy Cruz did the driving for this trip and parked the car at the bottom of the park so we could walk through the forest and listen to the mountain streams to get ourselves in the mood for what was to come. After a quick chat with a granny selling snacks in the parking area and a promise that we’d buy a few things on our way back down, we headed along the walking path. It wasn’t long before we found a beautiful stream to photograph and a couple of small grottos to whet the appetite.
Soon enough, we made our way into the main temple grounds and began to explore. Being an active temple, there are several spaces that are off-limits to visitors. However, the main buildings are beautiful and the weather could not have been more suited to our wants. Anticipation built as we made our way to the top of the temple and the buildings that house the 80,000+ woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana.
Unfortunately, the buildings have been closed to visitors since the arson that destroyed Namdaemun in Seoul some 8 years ago. Fear of another attack like this and continued degradation of the volumes due to thousands of daily visitors caused the temple to close its doors. Now, this amazing piece of history can only be seen through slits in the ventilation windows. It’s still an impressive sight but, unfortunately, not one that can be appreciated at scale anymore.
Despite this minor setback, the day was productive. Here is a selection of black and white images from the visit. A colour set will also be added soon. Please subscribe to my newsletter to get notified of that.