Arirang Images: South Korea Street Photography

Arirang is the name of a South Korean folk song said to be an unofficial national anthem.  The word is also used by many Korean businesses; you’ll find an Arirang smartphone, Arirang Taxi service, etc. The word can be seen all over South Korea, so it only made sense for me to title this collection of South Korean street photography, Arirang Images.

I lived in South Korea for a year from 2004 to 2005. I worked as a military journalist there and took hundreds of photographs. This is just a small sampling of the work I did there, but feel these pictures show a glimpse of South Korea–including Seoul, Gunsan City and elsewhere–that might surprise you. I tried to convey the sense of visual bombardment newcomers to the area get when confronted with the riot of signs, text, advertising, and brands that seem to cover every available surface.

Surprises? South Korea has plenty for the newcomer. Yes, that IS a mosque you see tucked away in one of Seoul’s many districts. (See below). The ubiquity of counterfeits, riffs on popular American brands like Starbucks, and the collision of English and Hangeul on the street also provides endless photo opportunities. And then there’s the street art…wonderful, and with no context to a visiting foreigner, the experience of seeing is even more exciting. The final image in this series is one that stays with me to this day as a profound and very meaningful statement.

You can click on these images for slightly larger versions of them with better detail.

–Joe Wallace

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Artwork, sound design, and video