Every year, I try and write one of those posts like other photographers that tells you about what I was up to this past year. Honestly, this year has been one that I don’t really want to remind anyone about… ever. 2020 sucked… big time.
I had a terrible year. Sure, I worked a few jobs, started a podcast and even managed to get on TV thanks to Noe Alonzo. However, for the most part, this year was downright horrible. It was supposed to end on a high note with a 2-episode spot on a TV show called “Forbidden Alley” with Busan MBC. The year ended with the death of my father and an unexpected trip home.
While can sit here and be jealous of those photographers around here that managed to stay afloat. I could also look at the coming year with the idea that I have faced one of the lowest points in my career and made it out with my camera still in hand. I can walk away from a trip home that put me in quarantine alone in my parent’s house surrounded by memories of my father and the experience of having to go to the viewing alone to say goodbye with the strength that if I can survive that, I can survive just about anything.
2020: A Test of Strength
I have a hard time looking back on this year. It was set up to be a good one. I had classes set up throughout the week and a few photo jobs already lined up at the beginning of the year. Then COVID-19 hit Korea and it hit it hard.
Thanks to the selfish acts of a cult in Daegu, by the time March rolled around, almost all of my classes were gone. I managed to squeeze a quick shoot at the end of February for an industry Magazine right before the area locked down. Despite the setbacks, 2020 still seemed like it could get better.
However, it was a prolonged beatdown of sorts. Jobs came back but for reduced pay. New work came around but only to be cancelled at the very last moment. The most heartbreaking of all was the Ulju Mountain Film Festival.
I had been in talks with them and they wanted a Canadian photographer like myself as their main focus this year was Canada. It was something that sounded amazing. The Canadian Ambassador to Korea was set to attend and the whole project looked amazing. Then the second wave of COVID hit and that was cancelled.
It Can Always Get Worse
Finally, just as the year was winding down, I thought that I was through the worst of it. I thought that no matter what, it could not get any worse. It can always get worse.
Just after 3 am on November 12th, I woke up because my cat was going bonkers. I followed her into my office where she was fussing about. I sat down in my chair and decided to check my messages. There were a ton of missed calls from my Dad’s friend and one ominous message which read “call me asap. It’s an emergency” that made my blood run cold.
I called him to find out that my Dad suffered a major heart attack and was in serious trouble. He was being prepped for airlift to one of the major hospitals in the area. I then got a call from my brother who was at the hospital. It was not looking good.
I thought to myself that my Dad had shot off his own fingers and survived. He was tough as nails and he would pull through. This might slow him down but he will pull through. I was wrong. My phone buzzed and a message from my brother knocked me to my knees. It read “Call me. He’s gone” and that was it. I called my brother and we wept over the phone. My wife got up trying to make sense of the situation and then finally crumbling into me as we both were overcome with the immensity of the situation. My Dad was dead.
The following days were a blur. We booked my tickets and figured out what I had to do to navigate the COVID protocols to get back home and to return without having my visa cancelled. As I got on to the plane bound for Canada, the Province of Manitoba, my destination, went into Code Red Lockdown. There were more COVID cases in that area than the entire country of Korea.
Arriving home, alone in a place where my Dad always would come out beaming when we arrived, broke me inside. It was cold, dark and lonely. With barely any sleep, I got a call from from the funeral home in the morning saying that I was allowed to visit my father the very next day but I had to be alone.
Standing there in front of him sucked the air out of my chest. It made me weak. I read, through tears, my final letter to my Dad. I thanked him for his love, support and all of his lessons. I called my wife in Korea and she said her goodbyes on facetime. Then it was time to go.
The Strength to Go On
I returned home alone. I just sat there in the Kitchen in shock. How was I supposed to bounce back from this? I was in quarantine, unable to be with my family and my father was being cremated that week. My head just froze the way your computer does when you try and do too much at one time in photoshop.
However, it was the fact that my Mom was still plugging away that gave me strength. We chatted on messenger as she stayed with my brother and his family. She dropped off supplies and carried on through the pain. I knew that is what I had to do. She has more strength that you could ever imagine.
After my quarantine was over, I started taking walks to clear my head. Then I picked up my camera and decided to try and get away from the grief for a tiny moment. It never really left me but at least with my camera in hand, I was able to shift my focus to something else. I am sure that is what my Dad would have wanted.
Before I left, I wanted to find my Dad’s old camera. It was the camera that he gave to me when I first started out. This was the camera that I learned on and took with me on my first trip to Germany. However, it was lost in the sea of boxes that filled the back shed. I had also been trying to find it for years. On my last day at my home in Canada, at the very back of the shed and at the very bottom of the very last box I found it along with my grandfather’s Brownie SIX-20. I finally, found my Dad’s Pentax Spotmatic F, case and all.
2021: A New Year or A New Hope
Life did not magically change when the clock struck 12 on December 31st. Life doesn’t work like that. What I realized is that no matter what day it is, you have to carve your way through life.
I always went about my life and my photography with a slight degree of laziness. Simply because I put in an effort to get up early and shoot a sunrise, that would somehow get people to follow me and hire me. Again, life doesn’t work like that.
So, this year, I hope that I can work hard and put enough effort into my photography to get out of this quagmire of BS and back on track. One can only put so much on hope and faith before they realize that action is what is needed. That is what I always screwed up.
The bottomline here is that if you are reading this and it has struck a chord with you then take action too. If you want to collaborate or have an idea that you need help with, reach out. I am here for you all. If you want to help me, then I am all ears. This year let’s seek to help each other rather than just taking all that we can and giving nothing in return. There are too many photographers out there that are like that. Take the time to help each other… please. If someone sends a client your way, send two back. Pay it forward and build a better community.
To that, I wish all all the best in the New Year and I hope that it will be a better year.