On March 19, I participated in the 2016 edition of the 24 Hour Project. This is a worldwide event where street photographers are invited to document their city by taking and sharing (on Instagram) one photograph per hour during the 24 hours of the day.
I thought it would be great to participate for several reasons. First I saw it as the perfect excuse to get out and take photos, in particular at an unusual time (I am so lazy that I would never get out in the middle of the night or even early morning just to take photos). I was also interested in testing my abilities and limits: would I be able to produce a decent shot every hour? Would I resist the fatigue? Finally that was also a good occasion to meet fellow street photographers in the area. I would shoot in Seoul (Korea) where I live and with my Ricoh GR camera.
One challenge with this project is that you have to start at midnight, meaning that you've been up for a full day before you even start. I decided to pick Hongdae, a busy district and the home of many clubs, to make sure there would always be people to photograph including at a late hour. I arrived there 30 minutes early and started walking around, checking my phone every 2min, feverishly waiting for the fateful moment: midnight and the start of the project.
The streets were swarming with people at that time. I foresaw an interesting shot with a line of people waiting to enter a club in front of a very brightful store but the "thin" outfit worn by the ladies waiting made me feel like a kind of pervert taking their picture so I decided to keep walking. I noticed from far away a colorful stall that I would have expected to see in a fair rather than in a club area. It didn't seem to attract anyone. The balloons were well lit and offering a nice texture so I decided to capture it.
While the subject and the light are interesting, I think I should have moved closer to get a better composition. This photo triggered a first question: should I shoot color or b&w? It actually looked a bit better in color but I wanted to keep some visual consistency among all the photos taken during this project so I decided to use b&w which would offer me more flexibility for the rest of the day.
Shortly after that shot I got a message from Finch, another photographer I contacted earlier and who was in the same area. We met at a bar and uploaded our first shot while getting to know each other around a beer. I didn't know at that point that we would stick together until the end of the (long) day.
At the next hour, we started wandering around the same area for a long while. I took a few shots of street food stands and street performers until I saw an interesting truck lit by two huge lanterns in the middle of a street.
This is probably one of the weakest shots of the set, the shadow of the man being not prominent enough. The shot is actually much better in color, the two lanterns having a very vivid orange color, which made me question my initial choice. Fortunately from that point, the photos worked better in b&w.
On our way back to another bar, I noticed a building with an interesting shape and light, which turned out to be a tourist information stand. I moved around to find the best angle and waited for a few people to pass, trying to isolate their silhouette between the vertical shapes of the building. The difficulty was that people who noticed I was photographing the building were trying to walk around me with the good intention of not ruining my shot, ignoring I was actually hoping to take them. I had to pre-focus and pre-expose the camera, then pretend I was doing something else to only point it at them at the last moment.
The man's shape is quite well isolated even though it could have been a little better. I liked the papers reflecting the light on the floor and tried to capture that in the following hour with no convincing result.
After another beer, we decided to do a last round in this area before going somewhere else. I wanted to get a shot of the street food stands so I focused on it until I got an interesting shot.
Even though the image is out of focus, I really like how the shadow of the arm holding the skewer stands out. Despite the relative blurriness, we understand and feel what is going on.
We then ran into Josh, another participating photographer who was accompanied by some friends. They needed to charge their batteries so we headed to a cafe nearby. The cafe was interesting because more than half the customers were actually sleeping, waiting for the subway to reopen or maybe just too drunk to move. I walked around a bit and took a shot of a girl with quite original hair.
Together with Josh and his friend Dong, we took a taxi to go to the biggest fish market in Seoul, called Noryangjin Market. I heard before that it was open 24h and that it was actually quite busy at night.
It was indeed busy with people delivering fresh products to the many stands all over the market. I took a bunch of funny close-up shots of fishes, octopuses or shrimps but then I remembered the theme of this year project was documenting "humanity" so I had to keep a human element in my photos. There was lots of artificial lights at the stands so I tried to take advantage of it. We didn't stay very long because all the shops looked pretty much the same. When I looked back at the shots I took there, my favourite was actually the very first one which I had almost forgotten.
What I like in this picture is the geometry formed by the lighten area, and the silhouette following that geometry. It turned out to be the most popular one on Instagram during the project.
Our next stop was the "foreigner district" of Itaewon. We found a quiet place by a church where we could enjoy the sunrise with a nice view. The weather was getting cold and we were starting to feel tired. On my way from the convenience store after grabbing a few beers, I saw a man walking down the street next to a street light. I'm glad I was fast enough to take him because we didn't see much people during that hour.
It was so dark that I had to use ISO 3200 to get him. His silhouette and the shadow are not perfectly visible but it's enough to get the idea. The car and the kind of kiosk on the right bring nice counterpoints to the man.
As we were starting to freeze, we decided to take a rest in another cafe where we could charge batteries and get warmer. It was becoming brighter as I was standing by the window looking at people getting busy.
What drew my intention in this shot were the multiple geometric forms around the man: lines, tubes, diamond-shaped signs, circles, etc. All of these gave me the impression he was following a very specific path, crossing a kind of imaginary door.
We left Itaewon to visit the shopping area of Myeongdong. As I didn't have any usable shot and it was getting late, I snapped a picture of Finch while we were in the subway.
Note how the texture of his sweater is similar to one of the door behind, making it almost like a camouflage except for the nose. The top part is there to give more context.
Once in Myeongdong it was not really busy yet, most of the stores were still closed. In one of them I noticed a girl who was preparing the mannequins on display. I liked how the mannequin looked human to her so I took the shot.
This is one I feel a bit regretful about. I think the situation was really interesting but my shot does not reflect it enough. I should have worked the scene a bit more and move to the left to find a better composition, for example having the naked mannequin behind in between the girl and the other mannequin. I had to crop it a lot which is usually not a good sign.
We went to another cafe to get warm after eating a quick breakfast. Quite ironically, it was during those resting moments that I felt the most tired. Staying active was actually the best way to make time fly and from that point, I didn't get much rest until the late afternoon.
While we were leaving, I saw from the cafe an old woman sitting right in the middle of a small patch of light. It looked like she chose that spot carefully and was really enjoying the warm sun. I showed her to Finch who encouraged me to take her picture. Being very introverted, taking close picture of strangers is something I do with lots of difficulty. If I had been alone, I would never had taken her but I forced myself to do it this time. I walked right in front of her, smiled and asked if I could take her picture. She smiled as well while mumbling something and waving at me so I just took it.
I felt so good after that, to have been able to overcome my stupid fear of talking to strangers and also happy of her nice reaction. I hope this was just a beginning!
After that we walked to the touristic and crowded Namdaemun Market where Finch and me lost track of Josh and Dong. We decided to continue on our own and headed up to Gwanghwamun to check the photobook section of the biggest bookstore in the city. On our way there we passed across this man reading a daily newspaper on display.
This is not the most impressive photo but it is actually one of my favourites. I love the posture of the man, his slightly oversized clothes, his shadow, the muscle on his cheek and neck... It's been a while I've been observing such a scene but the first time I take a photo I'm happy with.
After visiting the bookstore, we walked along the Cheonggyecheon River that crosses the northern downtown area. It's usually a nice spot for street photography because there are a lot of small bridges that create nice viewpoints if you're on the top and strong shadows if you're under it. Under one of those bridges was a small art exhibition which led to my following shot.
I liked how the couple was perfectly lit by a projector creating natural vignetting, and the nice texture on the wall. They were standing very close to the picture because it was a "Where's Waldo?" image (Or is it "Wally"? In France we call him "Charlie").
Just as we were getting hungry, I realized we were just a few blocks away from a delicious (and uncommon in Korea) meat pie restaurant. Or was it my subconscious that led my feet in the area? Anyway that was perfect to recharge our energy. After a long walk to Dongdaemun, we met a real size Waldo/Wally. I thought it would make an interesting link with my previous shot so I took him.
I like how the white elements (balloons, hat, shirt) contrast with the background, and how the stripes on his shirt are almost overlapping the zebra crossing behind him.
We arrived at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza which is a recent building with a very unique architecture. It's like heaven for photographers: plenty of shadows, reflective textures, geometric forms, nice backgrounds, etc. The photo I took there is probably one of the best looking of the set but it is actually a very easy one which tons of other photographers may have taken already. The key is to wait for the right moment when no one is in the stairs and someone appears on the top.
I had to wait quite a long time to get it. The reason is that a mom and her daughter were playing a kind of rock-paper-scissors game where the winner could advance one step at a time. It took them 15 good minutes to reach the top. The silhouette we see is actually not one person but two persons perfectly aligned, which makes the shadow bigger and more visible. I have another shot where we see the two silhouettes which is pretty nice as well, but I chose this one which is better fit for the small screen size of Instagram users.
At this point we were joined by Youngduk, a Korean photographer doing the project as well. The three of us would stick together until the end of the day. As Finch and I were a bit lacking imagination for our next destination, Youngduk suggested going to Insadong which is another touristic street with lots of souvenir shops and art galleries. On the way there we ran into hundreds of Waldos walking along Cheonggyecheon River. It was caused by an event organised by a new department store opening. I took them in order to continue my mini-series.
This picture is quite amusing because it's busy like a regular Waldo picture except they're all Waldos (can you find the man who is not a Waldo?). There are interesting details such as the ones crossing the river on the right.
Insadong was quite tough to photograph because it was really crowded. There was no space between people and not much time to prepare as everyone was moving. On top of that, my camera battery suddenly decreased to reach alarming levels. I had a portable charger but realized it wasn't working properly. I tried to save the battery by turning the camera on at the last moment, but when I tried to take a picture, my camera turned off. Fortunately the image was properly saved. I did this a few times and fortunately got something decent using the strong shadows created by the late sun.
I'm quite happy with this one because I had really not many occasions as my battery was dying. The shadows are more suggestive than the actual people, which creates an interesting balance to me.
We then had a long rest in a cafe where unfortunately there was no outlet for my camera. I charged it a bit using my laptop (which I carried on my back all day long for no reason, I brought it just in case I would be alone and bored, which didn't happen!). We decided that our next destination would be the Han River where we could observe the sunset. It was quite a long ride so the next shot had to be in the subway.
I admit this is clearly not the most original or outstanding shot of the day, but it was the best I could do with what was around me. In a way, it reflects a daily routine well known by everyone living in Seoul.
Arriving at the park by the river was pretty exciting with lots of photo opportunities. Maybe because it was a very different setting from all the places we visited earlier during the day. Suddenly we had space. I took a wide view of the place focusing on a group of young people chilling out.
What was nice there was the bright color of the grass that made anything on it stand out. The light was very soft as well.
We had some beers by the river but as soon as the sun disappeared it started to get really cold so we decided to go back to Itaewon to get a proper and warm dinner. Before leaving, we took our 7pm shot there. My battery was dying again so I actually had only one chance to take a picture. After that, the camera turned off and wouldn't turn on again. Fortunately the shot was okay!
I noticed that couple an hour earlier and was lucky they stayed there the whole time. The sun had already disappeared so the shot is a bit dark but the water was light enough to contrast with their silhouettes.
Once in Itaewon, we met for dinner with Sungkyung, another participant (so I met the only 4 other photographers doing the project in Seoul this year). I could finally charge my battery which would be enough to finish the day. We waited quite a lot for our food, so that when we got out of the restaurant it was already 8:45pm. We were in a rush to take a picture and upload it before 9pm. I took this guy closing his clothes store, the counterpart to my 9am shot.
There was lots of people eating in restaurants all around the area. I noticed one of those restaurants had unique-shaped lights so I captured it just a few minutes later.
At this point of the day, we were so tired that we were just wandering around dying to get a good shot quickly, and then spending the rest of the hour taking a rest in a bar. We had walked about 30 kilometers all around the city. I was not really sleepy but my feet and knees were starting to hate me.
For our last walk and shot, we decided to walk along some quieter street parallel to the main busy one. We heard some music and found a tiny bar crowded with people with a live band playing. I captured the next photo from the outside through the glass.
It was really dark but fortunately the light in the background was enough to isolate the musician just in between the two guys standing. A few steps and lightly covered ladies waving at us later, we realized we were unwittingly walking along the infamous Hooker Hill.
Back to the subway station Finch, Youngduk and I went separate ways to get back home. Our last shot - a group selfie - was actually taken a few hours earlier just before the sunset so that Finch could use his instant camera without worrying about the light. What was interesting during this time we spent together was that even though we were photographing in the same locations, each of us had a different style so our photos look very different. We took the same selfie three times in our respective styles.
And that was it!
Apart from getting to know nice photographers living in Korea, this experience was really beneficial for me. I am quite glad I was able to make it to the end. Having the pressure to publish a picture within short delays forced me to take shots that I wouldn't have taken under normal circumstances. I tend to give up shots too easily when I'm on my own, probably just by laziness. I probably got more interesting shots over those 24 hours than during my two previous months of shooting. One thing I want to improve is my composition because I usually notice afterwards that I could have made a better image if I moved around or framed differently. Again laziness makes me walk away once I have an okay shot when sometimes I should try longer until I get a really good one.
At the end of the day I definitely want to participate again next year and I really recommend this experience to anyone. My main tip would be to find other people to do it with because I think it's really tough to be alone for the whole thing. I am not sure I would have made it if it was the case for me. Being with others makes all the "non-shooting" moments pass much faster.
To see other photos from all over the world taken during the project, you can check out the official instagram account. Some of the best shots will be part of future photobooks and exhibitions (hopefully in Korea too).