Finding his Voice
Photographer Peter Blue
Written by Andrew Cummings
As far as he can remember, Korean photographer Peter Blue (Yeong Seop Oh) struck up a relationship with photography around ten years ago, when he worked as a graphic designer. Finding it difficult to find the right images for his projects, Blue realised it would be quicker just to make his own.
He began taking photos in earnest, however, only three years ago. Before that time, his dabbling with photography consisted mainly of family photo albums which he would compile and edit himself using the skills he’d gained as a designer. Gradually, he added pictures of friends and landscapes to his portfolio, too, and soon, photography became a more serious pursuit.
That said, Blue still considers himself an amateur. “I don’t have a background in photography”, he explains in reference to his education, “so I actively participate in online photography networks for advice and knowledge”. These networks, which operate mainly on Facebook and miscellaneous blogs, are a useful means of connecting to the photography community in Korea, according to Blue.
“There are all sorts of online photo groups made up of professionals and amateurs alike”, he writes. “The focus and nature of each group is different, but they all have one thing in common: their members all share a passion for photography and taking photographs”.
Blue is careful to add that despite the active online community, Korea-based photographers may come up against various obstacles. One is the public perception of photographers, specifically older photographers. “It’s natural to see young people carrying around cameras and taking photos,” says Blue, “but older photographers can be treated as eccentrics. People sometimes view or speak to you coldly”.
“Another issue is the tension within the community”, he continues.
“There seems to be a tension between two broad groups of people: those who focus on the quality of the camera and those who place more emphasis on the quality of the photograph”.
Sometimes, he adds with reference to one particular experience of his at a photography meet-up, it can be difficult to tell whether someone is “a photographer or a cameraman”.
Blue also highlights a problem for photographers everywhere – the challenge of finding material to concentrate on. Blue enjoys photographing landscapes, and makes a concerted effort to imbue his images with the light and the spirit of the season, each being so different in Korea. He also attempts to reveal the interior life of human beings – their personality and emotions – through photography. One difficulty of photographing Koreans, who “generally dislike showing what’s going on beneath the surface”, is that they are even more likely to present themselves differently when aware of the camera, thereby obscuring that interior life the photographer grasps at.
Beyond these two broad subjects, his focus at the moment is water droplets, which for Blue hold a particular mystique. Blue remembers “being fascinated by the droplets of water that would remain after summer downpours during the wet season . . . There seemed to be a whole universe contained within each one.” Now, looking at water droplets through the lens, he’s attracted to the mysterious but natural way they distort and flip the world around them.
“I can spend hours walking around parks after the rain examining raindrops with my camera”.
Lacking a formal education in photography, Blue feels his style is fairly simple, though he’s seeking to develop it through self-study. But for Blue inspiration isn’t just restricted to the work of other photographers.
“Although I do try and learn from the work of both professional and amateur photographers, anything that elicits some kind of emotional response – music, literature, paintings – can be in some way instructional for me”.
Being voracious in this way means Blue can examine and reflect on all sorts of subjects and forms of expression, but, he admits, this method is not without its drawbacks. He elaborates:
“Because I’m interested in a range of subjects, I sometimes worry about lacking focus or motive when I take photographs. Also, since I place such an emphasis on emotional reaction, on days when I’m emotionally drained, it’s hard for me to take photos or engage with them.”
When it comes to medium, Blue likes the texture of film photographs, but believes that the craftsmanship of the photographer is of the utmost importance. “In Korean, we have a saying: ‘the master doesn’t blame his brush’.” In other words, the camera isn’t what makes or breaks a photograph – the photographer is. (For the same reason, Blue tries not to edit his photographs too heavily). “There’s a European photographer – I forget his name – who used disposable cameras because they were the most appropriate way to express his feelings and experiences”, he explains. Any medium, be it film or digital, has its limits and its strengths; the most crucial thing is that the photographer picks what works best for them.
Naturally, Blue wishes to exhibit his photographs in the future, although he doesn’t see it happening anytime soon.
“My skills aren’t developed enough yet, my expression isn’t individual enough yet, and I still need to establish my concept of photography more firmly”,
he feels. “That way, I might communicate his values more clearly”. Getting a more lucid idea of what he wants to convey might take time, but “with a continuous effort, I hope to be able to express myself in a way that satisfies me”. And with those words, Blue articulates the concerns of photographers anywhere.