When Simon Winchester wrote his travelogue “Korea ― A Walk through the Land of Miracles” in 1988, he was retracing the steps of Hendrick Hamel, a Dutchman who became one of the first Westerners in Korea when he was shipwrecked on Jejudo Island in the 1600s.
Now that path has been trodden again, this time by New Zealand photographer Blair Kitchener, who has made a photo booklet of his journey, called “Korea from the Road.”
The route starts on Jejudo Island and winds up the western side of the peninsula to Seoul, where Hamel was taken to see what the king wanted done with him.
|A Viking ship on Jejudo Island, one of the sights shown in Blair Kitchener’s photo booklet “Korea from the Road” (Blair Kitchener)|
Kitchener, who had worked in photography for about 20 years and now exhibits in Korea while teaching, had thought about making the journey for some time but was inspired to make a booklet about it after attending a workshop on self-publishing in Japan.
Kitchener also sees his work as a kind of historical documentation and wanted to update Winchester’s record.
“It was more to see Korea now today, not just the cities that people know about but also the country roads, the backstreets,” said Kitchener. “Have a look at everything a bit slower, rather than just driving around or flying here and there, I like the idea of walking it, and taking it in a bit more.”
His photography is generally landscape, with few people. But the empty spaces show evidence of recent human activity, and often the effect is one of neglect, such as abandoned fires and a run-down Viking ride on Jejudo Island ― placed ironically close to a replica, out of shot, of Hamel’s ship.
“The contrast is what people will do in Seoul as opposed to what people do in other parts of Korea. There’s quite a huge gap there, quite a stark difference,” said Kitchener.
“It seems like these areas have been forgotten a little bit, and a lot of the people there seem to be struggling a bit, with the utility chairs and whatnot,” said Kitchener.
He was referring to a picture in which a mobility scooter lies apparently abandoned by the side of the road. In reality, its occupant was working in an adjacent field out of shot.
“That’s one thing I noticed quite a bit and wanted to point it out,” he said.
Kitchener hopes to eventually make a larger, more complete book of the trip, and had made the current booklet as a trial run and to experiment with the hard copy format.
The booklet is available via Kitchener’s website blairkitchener.com.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)