Story by: Nathan Chesky, Photos by: Dylan Goldby
Patience is key for photographer Nathan Chesky, who is always willing to wait that extra minute to capture candid shots of people in their element. He works out of Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, where paper lanterns light the cityscape in the fall and the green tea fields of Hadong beckon from just outside town.
Groove Korea: Give us an introduction to yourself and your photography.
Nathan Chesky: I moved to Korea last year from Asheville, North Carolina. I was left my first camera, a Canon AE-1, by my grandfather, and I have been shooting film, instant and now digital ever since. I enjoy getting into the mess of it all, doing my best to understand what is really happening and coming out with something timeless and honest. Photography, like all art, isn’t supposed to be perfect; it is supposed to make you feel something.
Currently, I am the staff photographer for WiNK Travels and I am working on several personal projects in Busan.
Jinju has a lot to offer. What would you say are your top three things to visit and photograph?
Any time I visit a new country or city, the first thing I do is head to the market. It is basically my mantra. The central market in Jinju is JoongAng Sijang. Markets like this one, in the smaller cities of Korea, are my favorite places to take pictures of people engaging in their day-to-day business.
Jinju Temple is a main draw for visitors. Inside you will find the Chokseongnu Pavilion, which is atop a cliff along the Nam River and offers a contrasting place to take pictures of the natural scenery or Koreans who are often engaging in traditional rituals.
Lastly, many locals will push you towards Seokyu Park to take pictures. Here you will find some great scenes, as well as a rock cave and a high vantage point from which to shoot down toward the cityscape. Though if pressed for time, I would check out Kyungsang National University Campus instead.
You feature a lot of people in your photographs, but they’re rarely engaged with you. What are you looking for when you include people in your pictures?
As with all photography, first and foremost it’s all about the light. Once I have found lighting I like in place, I will wait until something strikes me about someone. Anyone with a unique disposition or interesting way of carrying themselves will often translate into something genuine in print.
I prefer candid photography and to focus on what is actually happening in the world around me. It is important to capture what first strikes me as fascinating to keep it interesting. If up close, I usually like to obtain at least a nod’s worth of consent. Often I will obtain it, take a few shots and wait for them to think I have finished. Once they have lost interest in me and carried on with what they were doing, then I get that one last shot. This picture is often the keeper.
What time of year best suits photographing Jinju?
The locals will all tell you May is the time to visit. Although Jinju is full of numerous verdant views in the spring, so are many places. My favorite season in Jinju is autumn. Visit the famous Namgang Yudeung Lantern Festival in October when the Nam River is lit up by luminous, statuesque lanterns. Or come a few weeks after the festival and stay at one of the many hotels on the river at a reduced rate and you will still find the lanterns lining the area around the palace.
Is there anything else near Jinju that could be visited on the same trip?
In nearby Hadong, in a valley below Jiri Mountain, there are some wild tea fields, which was the first place in Korea to grow tea. It’s magic. Also in Hadong you will find a cultural village set on a mountainside above the Married Pine Trees, which stand alone in a field. This is a picture many photographers seek out in Korea, as the simplicity of the terrain interrupted by these lone trees casts a striking tone when taken at the right time of day.
To get to Jinju, take a bus from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul (travel time is approximately 6 hours). Buses also go from Incheon Airport to Jinju’s Intercity Bus Terminal. Departures are at 10:30 a.m. and 1:20 p.m., the travel time is 4 hours and 20 minutes and the cost is 35,000 won (jinjuterminal.kr). The KTX takes roughly 3 hours and 20 minutes. There are also daily flights to Jinju’s Sacheon Airport from Gimpo Airport in Seoul.