NO RETURN ADDRESS: Redeveloping Seoul
I met Scott in 2009 when he first arrived in Korea, and we were both at a point when we wanted to take photography more seriously. We photographed anything and everything, and had delusions of grandeur that kept us in constant search for new techniques and tools with which to execute our ideas. We stumbled upon the idea of portraiture while exploring a drain one day, and spent months shooting ladies at sunset. Truth be told, I think we were more enamored with our f/1.4 lenses than anything else.
Those were exciting times. We (re)discovered film about a year later, which brought us both through a permanent transformation. For me, it slowed me down and made me consider the frame. For Scott, it changed his workflow entirely. He no longer has a digital camera, and in fact has slowed down further by taking on a large format camera. Scott always had a fascination with lines and the abstract, and large format film has given him the pace he needs to express that fascination.
Groove Korea: Give us a little intro into the photographer and the man that is Scott Hemsey.
Scott Hemsey: I’m an American from suburban Chicago. My interest in photography kind of grew organically from just taking snapshots while backpacking in Europe after I graduated from university in 2006 and has grown into what is now essentially my life.
I guess my photographic vision is more in the fine art realm than anything else. Typically, I begin with abstract structures such as lines, patterns and textures and build a frame around them. Regardless of the contents in my frame, the main aim is to capture more abstract elements and the interaction they have with the concrete—objects or people, for example. Aside from things of an abstract nature, I’m particularly inspired by people and places that are rather uncommon in our increasingly sterile and predictable environment.
Obviously, you’re not a regular contributor to the SPC anymore because of a certain medium change. Tell us a little about that change.
After taking a class on darkroom techniques and analogue technology in general, my already insatiable appetite for film was taken to the next level. I’d already been shooting on 35mm film exclusively for nearly a year. Shooting on film is an entirely different experience and I feel like my work that comes out of using film is better. For me, the shooting style is much different than with digital. I take my time, perfecting every aspect of the frame before making the shutter do its thing. The decision to shoot 4x5 was an extension of both the experience of shooting film itself and the improved control over every aspect of the frame.
What would you say is the biggest change that large format has wrought on you as a photographer?
Having a camera that is massive and fairly expensive to operate is somewhat limiting. When I am out shooting 4x5 my mind makes a switch and begins to evaluate scenes differently. I can’t just lift a large format camera to my eye like I can when using 35mm and snap a frame off from a roll of 36 exposures. I have to be confident that the frame I am going to make will be worth it. Setting up the camera, getting an exposure, and actually making the frame is a pretty intense operation.
Another huge change, as I alluded to in the previous question’s answer, is the flexibility and versatility of shooting 4x5. My control over the frame is expanded greatly over 35mm which is fantastic. Also, having a postcard-sized negative is pretty excellent.
Give us a little run down on the next year of Scott as a photographer.
I’ll be moving back to Chicago in the fall and I’m hoping to connect quickly with the photography community there. My intention is to work on exhibiting my series titled “No Return Address: Seoul V2.0.” It’s work that has all been shot on 4x5 film and encapsulates the contrast between traditional Seoul-style living and modern living; the character and identity of individual homes versus the lifeless, tombstone monolith mega-buildings that are popping up all across Seoul’s skyline. The photographs included here are from that series.
You spend a lot of time documenting the areas of the city under demolition and reconstruction. You have even had an exhibition of the pictures. What makes you do it?
I guess in a word I just find those places fascinating. Being in a place that is in the process of being destroyed, that once was so full of life is such an interesting feeling. Seeing the things that are left behind in these places is truly captivating. Who was the owner? Why did they choose to leave it behind? Their remnants are amazing insight into the ghosts that called the area home. Also, the reasons for the gentrification are interesting. The choice to abandon an old style of life and living in favor of a more modern style is particularly interesting in Korea to me.