Can You Change the Image of Your City with Photography

A while ago I wrote an article for 10 magazine about Ulsan, a city which I have lived in for almost 8 years now. I must admit that Ulsan has a bad image, but it is what it is, an industrial city. What I have tried to convey with the article is that Ulsan is much more than just a place surrounding a car factory. Be it known that it is not all wine and roses but judging from the comments in the article, it makes me wonder if people actually get out and see Ulsan before heading to Daegu for a Burrito or Haeundae for a day at the beach.

That being said, I have a question. Can you change the image of a city through photography? Can you show the culture, the essence of the city with your photos? A good place to start is with street photography. This is something that pains me to say but the idea is growing on me. Normally, I feel that a lot of street photographers do nothing more than shoot strangers and power poles and then try to explain the artistic significance of random people of the street. It just doesn’t interest me when there is no story behind the shot. However, the Seoul Photo Club has a contest running to photograph your street (link here). Adding that human element, that’s intrigued me.

So, try it! Head over to SPC page on flickr and try to capture the essence of your street. Then take it one step further. Try to capture the feeling and the flavours of your city. What makes you stay there? Is it your job? what are the streets like at night? does the city change during the day?

For me, it is the beauty and the lifestyle of Ulsan that makes me stay. I know many of probably gasped at that statement but there are waterfalls, beautiful parks, ancient temples, beaches, mountains and valleys with in a stones throw away. Not to mention the markets, allies, shopping districts, mountain bike trials, river side walks and shops to meet your needs. Many of the comments on the article showed a lack of insight into the city. They come to Ulsan expecting a miniature Seoul with everything that they had from home but with a Korean flavour. Sadly, Ulsan is not that but in many ways it is getting better. Over the next few months, I plan to show that and I would like you to join me.

I want you to find the heart of your city and what makes it live and breathe. I want you to show the elements that you enjoy about it. Then send me a link. I will try and highlight the works of those individuals that I think captured the essence and whatnot. This should be interesting.


  1. jt Reply

    Don’t for get to Enter the contest to rename my blog!!

  2. Chris in South Korea Reply

    Ulsan’s been on my list of places to see for quite some time. It is, perhaps, the only city with a sizable population I haven’t been to. No slight intended towards it, of course, but in researching, I just don’t come across a lot of reasons tourists might be attracted there. Haeundae and Daegu are right there, and are far better known for their touristy stuff. You know what to see in Ulsan – and I’ll look forward to reading / seeing more of that 🙂

    FWIW, I’m attempting to jump on the Seoul Photo Club bandwagon – some very talented people doing some seriously brilliant work. I just hope I can keep up.

    • jt Reply

      Yup there are some hard truths about living in Ulsan, but it is not too bad. As for the SPC I have also been trying to get on the bandwagon there too but I have always been a bit shy when it comes to comparing my work to those talented individuals. You are right there are some great photographers up there.

  3. Paul Reply

    See, I don’t understand the extreme hatred of living near an industrial complex strictly because it’s “ugly”. Sure, nobody wants to live right beside one because air pollution is shit and will ultimately take it’s toll on your health. But from an arm’s length, its not at all an unpleasant sight at all. Especially East Asian style where factories are agglomerated in tight clusters, so they contrast spectacularly with the mountains and/or ocean in the rest of your field of vision. With a sea breeze to thin out the gases, I doubt central Ulsan is much more polluted than say a heartland city stuck in a valley with less than half the smokestacks.

    Case in point: over in Tokyo, there’s currently a booming new tourism niche of taking people on night tours of Kawasaki’s industrial complex. There’s no neon lighting there like POSCO. Nope, just plain old lighting and people going about their business. The beauty comes from the interplay of light, smoke and shadows overlain by a veneer of sheer functionality. Only difference to the smokestacks of somewhere like Ulsan is that being built on reclaimed land, the entire area is split up with canals. Photographers and regular tourists alike are spending obscene amounts on night cruises (or decidedly less on bus tours).

    The end truth about living in a city is it has to cater to your interests. If you’re into a sport, then having facilities and local clubs is a point that simply cannot be compromised. If your hobby is travel, you want easy access to the KTX, or an airport, or a heartland bus terminal (basically Daegu, Seoul, or Busan). If music, either the smallest, most serene city you can find with access to supply and repair shops or whichever has a large supply of young people: so the larger cities (Seoul again) OR one with a young demographic (probably Gwangju from my observations). If you’re catered to, then the city is perfect and don’t let anyone speak otherwise. If you’re not catered to (my present problem in Daejeon I must admit), then it may be time to get the heck out of Dodge.

    A sprawling metropolis or world-class capital will always give you something to do without having to seek it out, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any better to someone who knows what they want. To me, the only thing that makes a city universally unlivable is something that affects your health and wellbeing such as crime, racism, street violence, dangerous pollution levels, lack of catering to dietary needs or crappy water.

    • jt Reply

      I think that you hit the nail on the head. Years ago I was apart of a teacher orientation and there was this dude complaining about Ulsan like most of the commenters and I ask him like “did you go here, do this, meet this person, eat at this place join this club?” and his response was like “well…. not really…” Then I asked “why didn’t you start anything up like a club or a group?” he just looked at me blankly.

      See what photography can show is that other side of life in these cities. The unseen side of life that keeps people here for so long. You may not even know that your city may have the best ____ in Korea, you just have to go out and find it.

      For Ulsan, it has a world cup stadium, k-league soccer and basketball, a KTX station along with trains and busses to everywhere. The river side and beaches are amazing and not to mention the mountains. Also it is close to everything.

      Paul I am impressed with your insight and I totally appreciate the comments so far!

  4. Traveling Hawk Reply

    My answer to your question is definitely, YES!

    You have wonderful pictures here. If I would have more time in Korea, I would go to know this town, only judging after them.

  5. Mags Reply

    I was in Ulsan on and off for 2 years and loved it. I loved that it wasn’t so popular; was amazed and in awe of the huge scale of the industry (HHI yards and the car plant). As you say, with the beautiful mountains all around, it seemed to add to its beauty. Going to lots of different local restaurants and making friends with the owners was a wonderful experience (still keep in touch with some of them!). I know not for everyone, but I would go back there in an instant.

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