Project 45

These two photographs of hay stables in Valais, Switzerland, are 45 years in the making.  I took the first image in 1972 during a school camp with my first camera, the fabulous Kodak Instamatic. This started my lifelong fascination for photography. When I received the prints from this film, I was annoyed at the glitch in this one image. However, four decades on, I feel that this imperfection makes the photograph perfect for me.  It showed me that with a camera, it was possible to capture a sense of time and space that could last a lifetime.

This year I returned to the region for the first time since I made this photo and I was excited to recapture this moment.  Of course that is not possible, just like standing in the same river twice. However, I managed to make a photo of a past moment, which is now destined to become a new memory.

Both photos were taken in the Fiesch region, Valais, Switzerland, 1972 & 2017

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Merci Marc!

There he was, climbing up a wall with a ladder to get a better view of what was on the other side. A quote stated something along the lines of ‘there are times you have to change the viewpoint to get the right image’.  This small image of photographer Marc Riboud demonstrating how he created some of his iconic photos, struck a chord with me.  I was in China visiting the 2010 exhibition: THE INSTINCTIVE MOMENT – A Retrospective, at the Shanghai Art Museum.  I was aware of his more famous photos, the Eiffel Tower painter, the woman placing the flower in the gun and the fabulously framed antique shop dealer photo from Beijing. These images by the renowned Magnum photographer were all there to see.

Shanghai was about to host the World Expo and the city was busy’ cleaning up’ its urban spaces.  This translated to, among other things, the destruction of many old, traditional neighbourhoods, the so-called Longtangs.  The homes were bulldozed and the occupants moved into new high-rise buildings.

Prior to seeing the Riboud exhibition, I snuck into an old Longtang neighbourhood that was in the process of being demolished.  To my surprise, there were still people living among the rubble, refusing to move. I spend a couple of hours taking photos and got out before I ran into trouble with the local authorities.

Having seen Riboud’s photos, many taken in China between 1957-2002, I kept thinking about that little photo of him looking over the wall.  This was a metaphor for me, to look beyond the obvious and to take some risks in my photography.  The next day I went back to the Longtang to take more photos.  As I wandered among the rubble, I saw it, a wall that prevented me from seeing what lay beyond it.  Instinctively I climbed it to look over.  The moment I had reached the top I saw a lone man cycling past a grand old house that was still standing. I lifted the camera and captured a photo that to this day I will remember as my Marc Riboud moment.

Merci Marc, you inspired me to focus closer on the moment and the emotions that can be found within that reality.

“Seeing is the paradise of the soul.”

Marc Riboud
(24.06.1923 – 30.08.2016)

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‘Merci Marc’ by Roman W. Schatz, Shanghai 2010

The Number 1 Bus to North Korea

It looked ominous. Suddenly we were surrounded by dozens of tanks and army personnel carriers. On every street corner soldiers stood guard. The sound of the tanks rumbling was only superseded by the occasional screech of fighter jets overhead.

The tranquility of our ride on Bus Number 1 along the east coast of South Korea had come to an end.  I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised, as Bus Number 1 from Sokcho heads up to the North Korean border. The destination for the day was the Demilitarised Zone in Goseong, also known as the DMZ. The observatory there is the closest to North Korea and the northernmost point of South Korea.  More than one million people visit this area on an annual basis. Visitors can see the Geumgangsan (Diamond Mountains) and the Haegeumgang in North Korea, and unlike many other observatories, there are no restrictions on photographs.

As luck would have it, the South Korean army was staging a military exercise, and this underlay the seriousness of the ongoing tension between North and South Korea. Looking out the window of the bus was like traveling back in time, as the villages had a 1950’s appearance.  This region is a long way from the modern mega-cities that are in other parts of the country.  The road winds its way north, past farmland and beautiful beaches. However there are constant reminders of where we are, as the beaches are fenced off with barbed wire and there are a number of observation lookouts along the coast. The threat of invasion from the North is still extant.

 After an hour’s bus ride we arrived at the last stop, a little bus depot on the side of the road. We then had to walk the last fifteen minutes to the DMZ registration office. It was a quiet day with only a few visitors and the souvenir shop vendors looked sleepy.  Once we registered ourselves, the officer ordered a taxi to take us to the observatory.  To get there we passed the border crossing between the two countries. There is a multi-laned highway leading up to several check points, however they are not operational. There is nowhere you can access North Korea from South Korea.  After passing a military checkpoint, where the car was carefully inspected including the boot, we were cleared to access the observatory.

There is a time limit of one hour to be on the site.  We were lucky to get the best taxi driver in Korea on the day, and he drove us right to the top of the observation point, saving us the walk up the hill from the carpark. He lent us his good binoculars then left while we explored the surreal environment that is the DMZ.  The first thing that struck me was how peaceful it was, after all it was still an active war site.  The weather had turned and we found ourselves looking into North Korea on a grey, misty day.  The sound of tank artillery from the distant military exercise by the South Korean’s gave the experience a poignant soundtrack. Up here at the observatory it was quiet, with only a handful of visitors, although the big viewing platform with many seats and mounted binoculars hinted at how many people frequented this place. However, it wasn’t just people looking across the border, also facing the one party dictatorship of North Korea were giant statues of Buddha and Mary; a symbolic gesture of the openness of South Korea.

The ride home on Bus Number 1 offered the same adventurous view as the journey north.  More tanks and army on the move, but by now we were used to them.  This was only an exercise and I can’t imagine the terror that the local population went through during the active War in 1950 – 1953.  I see the old people and know that many of them have families across the border, that they may never see again. A sombre feeling juxtaposed by the peaceful landscape that we were passing through.

Back in Sokcho, we finished the day off in the Abai Village, eating a delicious North Korean meal of Ojingeo Sundae (오징어 순대) stuffed squid sausage.  The village consists of a small group of houses and shops located on what used to be a sandbar offshore from the main city of Sokcho. As the North Korean army retreated from South Korea in 1950, a large number of North Koreans ended up trapped on the southern side of the newly established border between the two nations. With nowhere else to go, what began as temporary accommodation eventually became permanent.

My hope is that in the near future the Korean people will once again be united to live in peace and as one nation, and that Bus Number 1 will take passengers all the way to Pyongyang.

15 from 15

The end of another year, time to look back at some of my work.  This year I have been working on a number of photographic projects.  I continue to collaborate with my good friend Marcel Meier on a long distance photo exchange project, him being located in Switzerland and me in Australia.  We are currently working on a series of double exposures.

My most rewarding work in 2015 has been photographing my daughter’s wedding and I was privileged to be able to document this wonderful event.  My other major projects were travels to Java and Sri Lanka.  In my third visit to Jatiwangi, a small town in western Java, I continued my work with the local community and was able to complete a series of portraits depicting older people in the village.

I also traveled to Sri Lanka, where I spent one week working on an art project with a local school before traveling through this beautiful country.  I found myself taking more environmental portraits, something I am hoping to further explore next year.

Here are 15 of my favourite portraits from projects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia in 2015.

London D-Day

’11:30! … Oh you have got to be joking!’  The man looked worried and rushed past me. I had only been in London for a couple of hours and I was already upsetting the locals.  But much worse was to come.

It’s 1978 and I am on my first solo travel trip.  A week earlier I had spontaneously decided to spend a week in London.  This would be the first time I’d be in a country that didn’t border on Switzerland plus I was going to fly! I booked my ticket which included a hotel stay somewhere in Earls Court, I borrowed my best mate’s bag and my mum’s 35mm camera, a basic rangefinder. It was a big step up from my old camera, a Kodak Instamatic.

 

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My Mum’s BALI 35mm rangefinder camera.

The adventure started the moment I arrived at Heathrow airport, a short two hour flight from Zurich.  I grabbed my bag, which was small enough to be taken on board, so I wouldn’t have to bother with any luggage carousel.  No hanging around the airport for me.  I stepped out into the arrival hall and thought, ‘Now what?’  Using my rudimentary English skills I asked someone, ‘ How do I get to London from here?’  I was told to ‘just catch the train.’ I observed that many people bought tickets to Victoria Station, and that sounded about right to me.  With a ticket in hand I set off.

Travelling on the crowded train I experienced the wonder of being in a new place for the first time. I was in England!  As if to underlie my exhilaration, outside the window I spotted the Battersea Power Station!  Remember this was 1978 and the previous year Pink Floyd released ‘Animals’ which featured an image of this magnificent structure on the album cover.  I was liking this trip a lot!

Made it to Victoria Station and now I had to find my hotel.  I had an address and a little map of London, besides that I could simply ask someone.  I remember it involved a couple of Tube rides, twice on the same line just so I could work out which direction the trains were running! Once I made it to Earls Court I felt better.  Walking along a busy main street, a gentleman came up to me and asked if I knew what time it was.  ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘It is 11:30 Sir!’ He went a shade paler and hurried off.  Only later did I realise that there was an hour’s time difference between Switzerland and England.

Finally I entered the hotel lobby, introduced myself and was greeted with great fanfares.  ‘Mister Schatz,’  the lobby worker exclaimed, ‘So good to see you, we have been looking for you all morning!’  I was puzzled and asked why.  Turns out, the flight I had booked also included a hotel transfer from the airport.  But having only travelled with hand luggage I was out of Heathrow in no time, missing all of the paging announcements. Oh well! That first day was certainly adventurous for me but I was still to have my Robert Capa moment.

Next morning I was up early and eager to explore London.  There were so many famous sites that I had read about it was hard to know where to start.  For the first time I loaded my camera with 35mm film and I was ready to go. I was going to see as many iconic places as I could manage: Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace etc.

I think it was in Trafalgar Square when it happened. My first roll of film had come to an end.  I was sure I got some fabulous  shots.  

I sat down, got another roll ready and opened the back of the camera.  Disaster struck right there and then. Having only ever used 126 cartridge based film, I forgot that this film had to be rewound!  What an idiot I was.  I quickly closed the camera up rewound the film and hoped for the best.  I decided to be on the safe side and retraced my steps to re-photograph the sites I wanted photos of, cursing all the way.

It was only the other day, while watching a documentary on the famed Magnum photographer Robert Capa, who famously photographed the D-Day landing in World War 2, that this memory was triggered. Most of the photographs that Capa took of the Allied invasion of Normandy were destroyed in the rush to get them published.

There are only nine known surviving photos that Rober Capa took on that fateful day.  I fared a lot better and managed to bring home about 22 images plus the only danger I faced was stepping into some dog shit.

I have since managed the art of loading and rewinding film, I can speak a lot better English and I alway remember to adjust my watch to the local time.

NB if you are reading this and you are born this century, please look up 126 Film, 35 Film and Pink Floyd ‘Animals’.

The Jeju Diaries

“Hello, how are you? I love you!” I’d only been in town a couple of hours and I was being proposed to. Although I have had this kind of ‘unconditional love’ thrown at me before, from perfect strangers, this time it was from an Ajumma ( Korean for Aunty) at the Dongnum market in Jeju City. As she proclaimed her love to me, showing off her remaining teeth, all I could do was reciprocate. “I love you too!” This was the only bit of English that she knew, but it was enough for us to get engaged, in a different way. I took her photo, and in exchange presented her with an instant photo from my new icebreaker tool, a Fuji film Instax camera.

I have just arrived on Jeju island, South Korea, where I am going to be hiking on the Jeju Olle, a series of walking trails around the island.

Jeju Island South Korea
The best way to get to know a new place: go to the market and meet the locals.

On Route 1

This was my Indiana Jones moment. The little bridge was flooded nearly knee high.  The only way across without getting really wet was to use the outside ledge of the bridge, a barely one foot wide bit of concrete with a two metre drop to the creek below.

I am on trail 1 of the Jeju Olle. It’s a wet and windy day and there are few walkers to be encountered. I’m doing the trail in reverse, not because I want to be different, but there was a communication breakdown between the bus driver and the bus stop! I ended up at the finishing point first. Never mind. The tracks can also be traversed in the opposite direction. I just had to follow the orange markers instead of the blue ones. As a bonus, there was a beautiful bamboo walking stick left at the bus stop; the perfect aid for crossing  slippery bridges!

The first trail turned out to be a fitting introduction to the Olle, as I passed through the town of Seongsan and into a countryside, dotted with stone-walled houses, volcanic landscapes and the odd fellow hiker, who also enjoyed hiking in the rain.

Along the way I introduced myself to the local horses and cows and finished the hike feeling tired, sore, wet and glorious. My final reward, besides a bottle of makgeolli and a bowl of ramen, was the stunning view of the Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), from my minbak.

Jeju Island South Korea

This view inspired me to set off the next morning to climb Seongsan Ilchulbong, in the company of busloads of tourists. The first thing that I noticed upon reaching the summit was that someone was clearly making a fortune selling handy selfie sticks. There were more selfies taken on the peak than at a teenager’s party. I was inspired to start a new photographic project; the selfie series. Jeju Island South Korea

On Route 2

Why go around a hill when you can climb over it? Or if you are climbing an oreum, the Korean name for small inactive volcanoes, make sure you choose the steepest and most direct way to the top! By the time I reached the top of the second oreum I was ready to down my pack and stay there. Not only was I tired, but the view was sublime.

From the peak you can see a large slice of the east coast of Jeju. I looked out at where I’d been and what lay ahead of me.

The trail wound its way past farmland, laced with stone walls, tangerine plantations and ancient villages. The hiking was a challenge. I could walk the distance but the weight of my pack was taking its toll. Perhaps because the Jeju Olle is inspired by the Camino, my hike feels like a penance. As I entered the small village of Onpyeong Pogu any thought of camping on the beach was automatically dismissed. The local people had built a huge stone sea wall in the thirteenth century to keep away both the Mongols and Japanese pirates. One look at the rocky beach was enough to keep me away too! Instead I was ‘sold’ a fantastic room in a guesthouse, by a young girl who described all the benefits of her parent’s guesthouse. The fact that I didn’t understand a word didn’t deter her enthusiasm. I stayed and was glad I did.

The Shalom guesthouse proved to be an absolute gem. I slept soundly on a Korean style futon on the floor and was greeted by a wonderful sunrise. I was ready for Trail 3.

Jeju Island South Korea

Onpyeong Pogu’s rocky beach

On Route 3

The hard one! The guide book warned me. Route three was described as difficult. Luckily I had help. Jim Saunders is an Olle Trail volunteer and had contacted me via Facebook, prior to my trip. He offered to walk part of the trail with me. Having company not only distracted me from the weight of my pack, Jim was also able to tell me about the history and community involvement of the Olle.

The Jeju countryside is stunning. The trail took us through tangerine plantations, past oreums and along peaceful forest tracks. My highlight of the day was visiting Kim Young Gap’s gallery, a Jeju photographer who had spent over 20 years of his life capturing the beauty of Jeju Island. Suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, he created the gallery during his last days so that he could ensure his works be shared for years to come.  His work gave me an insight into his philosophical connection with the island. The next day I set out to create images inspired by his work.

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Lightening the load

I spent the next few days in Seogwipo and made a couple of changes to my plans. My backpack was too heavy to lug around and caused my hiking experience to be an unpleasant one. The tent and the sleeping bag had to go. Besides, I hadn’t discovered any good places for camping. The local post office took care of my camping gear and sent it back to Australia. What a weight off my back!

When I checked in at the local hotel I met a young German fellow who had been in Korea on a working holiday for the past two months. After a brief chat we decided that we would hike together. That afternoon we set off in the rain on Olle track 7-1.

On Route 7-1

A peaceful hike throughout the outskirts of Seogwipo, up a mountain with a huge crater carved out of its centre. Here is one of the few places that rice is grown on the island.

The highlight of the day was stopping at a temple to be greeted by a nun offering a refreshing drink of tangerine juice. It’s these moments that make the Olle special. Not just seeing the island’s sights but meeting its soul.

The rain continued for two more days. And while we waited for a dry day, the island’s biggest challenge loomed large over the city. Mount Hallasan.

Jeju Island South Korea

On Trail 7-1

Sherpa Schatz!

“I am 75 and I work out every day in the gym in Singapore.”

I only just made it to the summit of South Korea’s tallest mountain before him! I was struggling with the last few steps that lead to the crater of Mount Hallasan, baring my teeth and panting. He was grinning. It had taken me and my new companion just on four hours to reach the summit. We didn’t have much time for rests on the climb as the hiking times were strict. Miss the cut at 12.30pm at the middles station and you miss out on climbing any further. We made it with 15 minutes to spare. A short break and we were the last hikers through the gate. Once at the summit, we had to commence the descent by 2pm. This gave us just 20 minutes to enjoy the view at the top. That was fine by me. All I wanted to do was sit down and rest my legs. The climb up the Seongpanak trail is tiring, as you make your way to the top, over countless, slippery rocks. Like walking over a dry riverbed for hours, but on an ascent. The descent took longer, 5 hours. As fatigue set in and the light began to fade, the walk became dangerous. We saw a couple of people slip and fall. I didn’t see the elderly Singaporean couple coming down, so was getting concerned about their safety, when I heard a low humming and rattling sound. Out of the mist appeared a small mono-rail. I had been wondering what the strange construction next to the path was. On this little train, the stragglers and the workers were being brought to safety. The train was small, sturdy and strong; I could think of only one suitable name for it: the Ajumma express.

By the time I made it into my bed I could hardly move. I had just completed a 9 hour hike to the tallest mountain in South Korea, and I was on top of the world. In five minutes I was asleep.

Jeju Island South Korea

At the summit of Hallasan

Chuseok

My original working idea was based on ‘SamDa.’ The three abundances of Jeju – stone, wind, women. I had explored this concepts as an abstraction of the island. The wind and stones came to me on Olle route 9 that wound its way through a valley and past cliff faces. I felt like I was walking in a painting. I was looking for photographic compositions that speak of this ancient place. I found it all in the Olle pathways and the gentle movements of the grass in the wind.

The women of Jeju can be seen in the markets where they sell their wares. I walk around without an interpreter. This makes taking portraits difficult. But I have to be brave and just take the photos. As I walked through the landscape that also inspired Chusa Kim, I felt strengthened in my quest.

Chuseok II

In my travels on Jeju Island I have encountered three artists whose work has not only been influenced by the visual aspect of the place, but most strongly by a longing for one’s family and kinship.

There was photographer, Kim Young Gap (1957-2005) who portrayed the island in a loving and gentle way. His images evoke a sense of endless time, serenity and love. The painter Lee Jung-Seop (1916-1956) who was strongly influenced by his loneliness and despair from being separated from his family. Finally I visit the Chusa Exile Site, where the celebrated scholar and artist Chusa Kim Jeonghee (1786-1856) created some of his most famous works.

I have been moved by all three artists and it seems a fitting day, being Chuseok, to visit one of Korea’s most respected figures.

Jeju Island South Korea

On a Spiritual Path

I tried to be inconspicuous and take a quiet portrait, but I ended up being invited to share a cup of Makgeolli, dried fish and a group photo. Not enough, the grandmother of the group thought I looked thirsty and gave me a beer as well.

I was on my way to view a large Buddhist temple on Mt. Sanbangsan, it was just on 11am and the good spirit was flowing. I usually like to visit one temple on my trip and Mt. Sanbangsan seemed like a good choice. There are a number of temples on the mountain but Sanbangsa-gulsa was a bit special. Set about 150 metres up the volcano of Mt. Sanbangsan, it is the only cave temple on Jeju Island and people have been praying in it since the Goreyo Dynasty (964~1053), starting with Monk Hye-II when he came to live in this cave, bringing a statue of Buddha with him.

Spiritually nourished I set off on my homeward journey, only to be stopped by a boy selling local mandarins. Now my bodily needs were satisfied as well.

Jeju Island South Korea

It’s a Miracle!

I have moved on to Yongsu Port. What looked like a coastal town turned into a rural village by the sea. It is beautiful, with two small islands crowning the harbour. There aren’t many accommodation options, but I managed to find a room at one of the two pilgrim hostels.This little town is a major Catholic pilgrimage site honouring Koreas first catholic priest and Saint, Kim Taegon Andrea, who happened to arrive at Yongsu-pogu Port on his way back from China to Korea after sailing in a rough storm for more than 20 days.  Saint Kim Taegon Andrea is also the country’s patron saint.

Walking Olle Trail 13 in reverse, I witness three miracles!

The first was while I was looking for an inn to stay, I saw this guy heading off in the correct direction on the Olle trail. As I was hiking in the opposite directions I thought around the three and a half point, “I should cross this man soon, and immediately he appeared. Second, I was thirsty. I only had half a bottle of warm water and still two hours to go. Then I saw two men waving at me and smiling. As we crossed paths I recognised them as Olle companions that I had briefly met a few days ago on Trail 11. As we passed one of them handed me a bottle of cold water and said “Fighting!” Hallelujah! The third miracle  occurred when I sat down and all I had in my bag was a tin of spam. As I opened it the contents turned into lunch. Amazing! That’s when decided that I may stay the night here.

Jeju Island South Korea

A constant companion on Jeju Island:  Mount Hallasan, seen from Yongsu Port

You’re not Fat, you are Strong!

I have always said that I can get myself into trouble in five languages, and Korean is one of them. I decided to stay another day in Yongsu to walk the number 12 Olle. This turned out to be a great decision. About an hour into my walk I caught up with a group of hikers who insisted I walk with them. One young woman spoke good English and her friend was keen to learn some new English words. In exchange she would teach me some Korean. I now had two assistants of sorts, who made capturing photos of the women field workers easier. As a result I was able to take some strong photos. As for my Korean lesson, it seemed that I was a slow learner and the words weren’t sticking with me for very long. I needed to practice more. And then it happened. Feeling keen, I interpreted a question from my companion as to whether she was strong. “Yes,” I said, “you are very strong!” She looked confused and asked again with the word that I thought meant strong.

“Yes,” I repeated. ‘Very strong.” Then she stopped talking with me.

Some time passed and her friend caught up with us and the two young women talked. The good English speaker then told me that her friend wanted to know why I thought she was very fat!

I now realised why she had stopped talking to me, and hastily replied that I said ‘strong’ not ‘fat.’

The misunderstanding was resolved and friendship was restored.

Course 12 taught me that the Olle track really was a trail where you meet people and make friends. Just don’t insult them.

Jeju Island South Korea

Snakes Alive

It had taken me three weeks and just over 150 kms of hiking to spot not one but three snakes on this trail. Maybe I hadn’t been looking in the right places or I was making too much noise and scared them away? There are actually a lot of snakes on the island and their origin can be explained by this legend: http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=1211

It’s my last week on the island and I am in Hallim harbour, having now nearly circled it. There are still a couple of Olle courses for me to do. I feel that I have got the images that I wanted, so I will just enjoy the walking.

I must have looked tired. This was the second time this had happened on my trip and it had to stop.

“Hulk Hogan! Hulk Hogan!” the little fellow was calling out and grinning at me. I had just entered a local supermarket at Hallim and he greeted me loud enough for everyone to hear. Great. Hulk Hogan wasn’t exactly the image I was going for. I’m used to being called names. It used to be GI Joe (I ditched those sunglasses) and for a very short time it was Braddo Pitto (go figure) and I could live with that. But Hulk Hogan? I was going to trim my moustache!

Just finished Trail 15. The rhythmical tapping of my walking stick has been a constant companion on my walks. The cicadas sing as I walk past tall pine trees, a yellow butterfly enjoys the late summer sunshine. The light catches the green moss on the rocky path, still visible from the recent clearing of the grave sites for Chuseok. A dragonfly leads the way further down the path. An aeroplane flies low overhead, reminding me of the short time I have left on the island.

I am surrounded by life and death. The stone walls surrounding the grave sites give the landscape a structured pattern. Farmers are busy planting winter crops next to their ancestors’ resting places. the little villages are quiet, except for the sound of passing tractors. Time seems in no hurry here, yet it passes through like the constant wind on the island. Soon this will be all but a memory of Samda.

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