4 de julio de 2017

A Photographer's Soul

An Interview with Leigh MacArthur

Leigh MacArthur is a Landscape Photographer based in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province of South Korea.

 Cherry trees at Gyeongbok Palace in downtown Seoul, South Korea.

He has been taking pictures of Korean Landscapes for more than 10 years. He is a global ambassador for the great city of Seoul. His pictures are amazing and speak about traditional Korean architecture, temples and palaces that are hundreds of years old, people, places, nature and wonderful moments to remember.

A couple embrace in front of Gyeongbok Palace.

1.- Where are you from? Tell us something about your homeland.
I come from what was once a small town called Bowmanville which is 100km east of Toronto, Canada. Even though that’s where I was born, went to school, and grew up, as a family we travelled a lot. One of the things I am most grateful of is the fact that we have driven from coast to coast. It’s a lot of driving - well over 7000km. There is so much going on all over the country. There is so much diversity, the people, the cultures, and of course the landscapes. It really is amazing how the landscape shapes and changes cultures and values, and yet we still seem to have that common bond that we all just knew when we looked at each other. At least that was the Canada that I left behind.

2.- When did you travel to South Korea?
I first came to South Korea on July 22, 2003. It’s a date that I’ll never forget.

3.- What did you feel the first time you visited Korea?
When I got off the plane and through customs, I was pretty nervous, but when I looked to my right as I walked from the security area into the airport lobby, the first things I saw were a fast food chicken restaurant (KFC) and an ice cream stand (Baskin Robbins) and I knew I was going to be okay. Fast forward a day, and I felt the most helpless I remember feeling in a long, long time. Walking through the grocery store, I realized that at 29 years old, I was, for the first time, illiterate. I couldn’t read anything, it was a scary moment. I couldn’t even buy water because at the time the large soju (Korean rice wine) bottles looked identical to the large water bottles, and the store had the 2 displayed next to each other. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol, so to avoid buying the wrong bottle, I didn’t buy any bottles with clear liquid in it. I would simply boil the water from the tap at my apartment.

4.- How did you get used to living in Korea?
Well, I had a few things in my favour which helped me. The first thing that helped me was my experience in travelling. Granted we didn’t normally spend more than 1 week (or 2 during the winter vacation we took to Florida, USA) in one spot, but you get a sense of being aware of where you are and where you need to go. Also, the term I studied in France while I was in university was a tremendous help. My French wasn’t great when I got there, but knowing I’d be there for months allowed me to familiarize myself with the local customs and people a little more than if I was simply travelling. These experiences taught me to adapt to my new surroundings quickly. The second big factor was that my first teaching job was located in Seoul. There was enough English, (not nearly as much English as there is now) around that it made the transition easier. I would only go to a restaurant if they had pictures of the food or English on the menu that I could point to, and at the grocery store, I would only buy food that I could see inside the packaging or was already familiar with the brand and I was able to recognize the logo, even though the words would be in Korean. That’s how I started to learn how to read Korean. I would look at the Korean words on the packaging and figure out what each character sounded like. I think that if I had to start out in one of the smaller towns or cities, I may not have lasted more than the first year. After 2 years in Seoul, I got my first (DSLR) camera and I finally got enough courage to start travelling outside of the city. 14 years later...

5.- What's the best thing about your life there?
The best thing about my life here? Experiences. Opportunities. I have a very hard time believing that everything that I’ve been able to experience here could have happened anywhere else. The opportunities that have opened the doors to those experiences, too I am extremely grateful for. Without one there isn’t the other and vice versa.

6.- What means "Photography" in your life?
What means “Photography” in my life? To borrow a word from Korean, it would have to be “maeum” (마음). It’s a word that combines the English words “will, heart, and sentient”. One of the things that living in Korea has taught me is balance and a much better understanding of how everything relies on everything else to exist in harmony. Photography is life and life is photography, even if you don’t have a camera in your hands. You need will, heart, and sentient in life and in photography. If you don’t have the maeum in your life it isn’t going to appear in your photos. Photography is constantly evolving and growing and as my photography evolves and grows, I do, too as a person. As I grow and evolve as a person, my photography grows and evolves even more.

7.- What's the best thing of being a Landscape Photographer?
The best thing? Wow, that is a tough one. Like my photography, that’s an answer that is constantly evolving. I would have to say the best thing is having that connection with nature. It took a while for me to get here, but there’s definitely a connection once you let yourself be a part of the nature, and feel its energy and be a part of it not simply be a visitor is the best thing for me. The calmness, peace, and grace of watching ducks swim across the water is a majestic sight, and the trust they have in you not to catch them, (some are more skittish than others of course) to continue to swim and allow you to watch them, it is remarkable. One photo that I have is of 2 chipmunks. I watched them play and play. One of them finally saw me and froze. His friend (or sibling) but its arm around him to encourage him. It felt like it was saying, “Let’s go!” or “It’s okay, don’t worry about the human, we’re faster.” The longer you spend in nature the more you understand how human-like nature is, or how nature-like humans are.

8.- Do you have a favorite picture?
I don’t, no. Having a favourite photo would signify that I feel that I no longer need to learn, improve, and evolve. I can always get better. I feel if I was to settle on a favorite then, I have the mindset that I don’t need to get better. I have a number of photos that have a special place in my heart for the parts they have played in my journey, but to single one out would almost like saying you have a favorite son or daughter above the others.

9.- What is your biggest dream?
My biggest dream, photographically speaking, would be to have a story published in the hallowed pages of National Geographic. I was lucky enough to have a number of photos included in a special exhibition that was a joint effort between the City of Seoul and National Geographic, which was a huge thrill and honour, but to get into the magazine...that is by far my biggest dream.

Love Under a Cherry Blossomed April Shower.

A Quote From Leigh... 
"I am always in search of natural beauty that emanates a sense of balance between tranquility and power drawing inspiration from mid to late Joseon Dynasty artistic themes and shapes mixed with European and Canadian colours"

Leigh MacArthur

All the pictures are protected under Copyright law by Leigh MacArthur and are used with permission.

To read the Spanish version of this interview click HERE 

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