Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Picture

I'm not inclined to put pictures of myself up here at all, as I find it a bit vain to be honest. Blogs are not Facebook profiles. But I was looking through some old pictures earlier, and was thinking of how most of them never really represent the experience you were having at the time when the photo was taken.

For me, things like songs, sounds and smells are far more visceral in terms of reminding me of a certain time. To this day, if I smell Physio Sport anti-perspirant I am instantly transported to the back of a Landrover travelling along bumpy roads in Kenya in 1999, as that was my choice of deodorant for a trip there. Listening to certain songs from Ash's '1977' album reminds me of being miserable on a French exchange trip, nursing my first broken heart as I tried to figure out why everyone there kept speaking French to me and asking if I wanted to eat 'the crap' (I later discovered what a 'crepe' was).

Yet I found one photo that, above all others, captures the essence of a moment beautifully.

Would you like to see it?

That's me in Seoul, South Korea where I taught on a one month contract in January 2006. Given how I was only there for a short time I decided it would be best if I went out every single night and sampled as much Korean culture as possible by eating and drinking anything I knew the Korean word for, indulging wildly in karaoke, smoking (because you could) in weird little private cinemas which only accommodate 2 or 4 people, and telling taxi-drivers I was a swedish popstar. I also worked 9-5 six days a week and had a 2 and a half hour round trip to work so sleep wasn't really a high priority. There's only so long one can sustain that kind of tempo and for me it was about two and a half weeks before my body crashed. I coughed violently all the time and found myself unable to stomach the school lunches of rice, octopus, fucked-up miso soup, more octopus and kimchi (the national Korean dish, best summarised as pickled fermented cabbage). Which meant there was nothing to eat. Other colleagues also fell ill around the same time, and the school weren't best pleased with them needing time off so I had no choice but to work through it. I recall one class where the 6 year-olds I was teaching reading to would calmly take it in turns to read out loud before waking me politely at the end of each round.

This photo was taken on my worst day, and that's why it encapsulates the experience so well. I look like a piece of boiled shit, completely lost in a surreal country and yet giving enough of a smile to betray that I was loving every minute anyway. The way the kids turned out blurred just heightens the effect.

I still prefer to have other triggers to important memories in life but I'd love to think that everyone would have at least one photo that captures a complicated feeling in the way this one does for me.

6 comment(s):

Darren said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful time - an experience.

I love photos. I love having many photos. My brain doesn't seem to store things in the same way everyone else does, so the photos bring back everything for me. But yes, there are a few (very few) photos that encapsulate a precise feeling, an emotion, a thought and these photos are why photography exists.

(That photo still reminds me of The Ring though)

B said...

I've never seen a piece of boiled human shit, but I believe it looks somewhat different.

Most places and events have some music connection with me.

I'd love to go to South Korea, but I know I'd just spend the whole time there being obsessed with the lovely little novelty nation that is North Korea.

Anonymous said...

You cute....but, er 12??

Andrew said...

Darren- I'll let you away with that cheek but only because it's your birthday.

B- believe me, i was extremely preoccupied with North Korea while I was there. Kim Jong Il is my comedy hero. Went up to the DMZ for a visit, it's every bit as fucked up as you might imagine. Bear in mind I was there not long after Team America came out so there was no shortage of "Oh herro Hans Brix" type comments. I even used to get the aforementioned Korean six year-olds to repeat it after me, as they had no idea what they were saying.

Leigh- what kind of freaky 12 year olds do you know? I'll take that as a compliment but believe me when I say that in the 2 and a half years since then I have started to look every single one of my 26 years.

B said...

You were in North Korea?!

Hated Team America so much that it put me off South Park... think it was the puppets.

Andrew said...

Nah, I wasn't IN North Korea, DMZ stands for Demilitarised Zone, it's the border area between the two. Did get to go into some tunnels that the North Koreans dug in an attempt to invade South K. They painted the walls of the tunnel black and tried to claim it was just a coalmine.
It would have been possible for me to do a trip to Pyongyang in the North, but you have to have two guides with you at all times for securitty purposes and to stop you taking photos of things they don't want outsiders to see, so it's extremely expensive and I wasn't on that kinda budget. Apparently, the thing most visitors there find weird is all the blank spaces everywhere because they don't have advertising of any kind. Sounds nice to me.

And about Team America, you shouldn't hate stuff.