January, February, March, August, November, December-
December-DECEMBER?! Where did the year go?!
Well, if I said 2020…you’d probably be able to guess. Coronavirus. Covid19. ‘Rona’. The pandemic that stopped the world.
My last blog post feels like it was written years ago. I remember ending with a note how Coronavirus was beginning to take over the world and for people to stay safe. Well, I hope you all did and are living the socially distant masked life as best as possible.
I can’t say much about my photography this year. Oh boy did I have plans for it in January. I had so many goals. I was going to push my photography hard, create video content, a calendar with the year’s best images and even write up an image-based book on South Korea’s most beautiful locations. I was going to end the year standing on top of the world saying ‘look what I just did’ *insert smug grin here*.
Well, I managed about 3-4 locations in total, a couple of nice images aaaaand well…. that’s about it. Not quite show stopping really. I’m sat here staring at these words feeling incredibly unaccomplished this year, but then…most people around the world are probably in the same boat as I am. And that’s the one thing I need to keep reminding myself. The whole world was turned upside down this year, and many of us are feeling quite defeated. It’s not our fault if this year didn’t go our way and we are not the only ones thinking so. But nevertheless, let’s look back on the rest of the year that I didn’t cover in my last blog post, because….my dad told me to.
March - August:
Being a Native English Teacher working in an Elementary (Primary) school during these months, I had a duty to prevent myself contracting Coronavirus so that my school’s student population would also be safe. Any disregard for social distancing could put my whole workplace and 300+ young children at risk. I also did not wish to experience the effects of this illness nor the process of being tested. So I paused all travelling around South Korea and remained in my tiny, rural countryside town to ride it out. This was difficult for me, not because I had to follow rules but because all I did was travel. There was hardly a weekend where I stayed home. During these months, the picturesque and quiet countryside town of Yeongam began to feel…. isolating. I resorted to whatever wine I could get my hands on and making numerous trips to the local marts for plenty of snacks.
However, I’d see photographers on social media, gadding around the world in countries not yet affected and felt ashamedly jealous. All I had to photograph were the Spring blossom trees that would come and go in a week and then…nothing.
As the months progressed, my province (Jeollanamdo) seemed to be the least affected in terms of Covid infection rates, and I was allowed to carefully move about. But, if I came down with the virus, well… that was all on me. But GOD I had to get out and go SOMEWHERE. I managed 3 trips, two in the same location. Damyang Metasequoia Pathway and Boseong Green Tea Plantation, places I’d visited in the past and knew I’d get a couple of nice images.
I checked all the Covid apps prior to going, making sure that these towns hadn’t had any local cases. That was the good thing about Korea, they tracked and traced SO well. But it still didn’t feel safe. I remember sitting on the bus back from Damyang and thinking to myself: ‘anyone on this bus could have coronavirus.’ I then held my breath because it seemed like a logical thing to do. When the man next to me coughed I was practically trying to squeeze myself out of the window of a moving bus.
Korea dealt with the pandemic well and continues to do so. Yet, at one point I began to feel uncomfortable for the first time in 4 years of living there. A surge of cases in Seoul’s foreign area, Itaewon, brought about the idea that foreigners were ‘super spreaders’. A super spreader Korean male managed to infect a few night club goers, in an area where many foreign restaurants, shops and bakeries reside. It was then presumed that every single native teacher had been to Itaewon, and the mass school panic began in tracing their teachers whereabouts at the weekends. An unknown person decided to inform my provincial education office that I had been in Itaewon at the time of the super spreading and was thus infected with Covid. Of course, this was not true in the slightest. Perhaps this was some random person calling around all education offices having native teachers checked, perhaps someone didn’t like me and thought they’d single me out, perhaps a parent was paranoid and wanted to check for their own children’s safety. Whatever the reason, I didn’t appreciate it.
From then I felt as though I had a reputation to maintain as a Native teacher, the need to prove we were responsible adults who were able to social distance and keep people around us safe. We were told to go nowhere, which was totally understandable, however most people began to find this incredibly isolating. It was okay for our Korean co-workers who lived with family or could visit their families. We had to settle for zoom calls and small local gathering of friends on the low down to remain sane.
I had already decided earlier in the year that this would be my last year in South Korea, and in August I would leave my job and move back to the UK to move onto a new adventure. A good thing as many jobs were being cut anyway due to the pandemic.
As August approached, I was excited to be able to see my family again yet nervous for the journey home and what was waiting on the other side. Getting coronavirus was my number one concern.
My flight was cancelled 3 times by British Airways *shakes fist*. There went my premium economy seat I’d booked a year in advance to save some money.
I had to book a Korean Air flight when I realized British Airways would not be able to get me home until September, with my visa expiring in the meantime.
Moving out of Yeongam was not as emotional as I thought it would be. The packing kept me busy. Making sure I wasn’t carrying too much yet had everything I needed, that I hadn’t left anything behind and that it was spotless for my lovely land lady. I worked a half day at school before I was driven to the bus terminal by my wonderful co-worker. And there I was….watching Yeongam disappear for the last time on the Gwangju bus.
The journey to the airport took 9 hours. Masked up in the Korean humidity, I was a sweaty mess when I got to my airport hotel. I looked like a mad woman, hauling my suitcase and camera bag onto two buses and then into the subway station at Incheon while muttering how heavy it was.
I barely slept in anxiousness. And because the hotels bathroom drains STANK. Seriously every time I opened the door-WHAT IS THAT SMELL?!
While eating haribo for dinner at 12am, I kept trying to mentally prepare myself for my flight the next morning. How socially distanced would the aircraft be? What if I get coronavirus and pass it to my family? Risks I was taking to go home. (This was discussed with my family, who also knew the risks)
Checking in for my flight the next morning had me in a state of anxiety. WHY was it everyone was checking into the SAME few desks?! Only the check in desk seemed to be chaotic as I flew through security and customs only to then find nothing open at 7am. In search for breakfast at Incheon Terminal 2, the only thing I was able to get my hands on was a Vanilla Frappe and a sugary muffin. Not sure if a sugar overload was what I needed before a long flight. Next thing I knew, I was launching my camera bag into the overhead compartment on the plane (with multiple attempts because JESUS Courtney, what is in your bag?! My arms are super short too…)
I was watched by the Korean lady behind me as I wiped down EVERYTHING in my reach that I may need to touch on my 13 hour flight. I had it all ready, hand sanitizer, multiple masks and Lysol sprays... TAKE THAT RONA.
Korean Air however were pretty fantastic. They informed us that they had already cleaned the plane before we boarded. Everyone was distanced, in fact each person seemed to have a row of 3 seats to themselves in economy. I could therefore stretch out as much as I pleased and not have to worry about the person next to me breathing on me. Everyone was masked up and I made sure to change my mask every 4 hours. The flight crew were decked out in full PPE, goggles and everything. They took it very seriously and I was thankful for that.
When I landed in Heathrow I was shocked. No social distancing being enforced, no one checking temperatures, directing anyone, making sure people wore masks….it was a mess. After grabbing my suitcase, I headed for the first toilets I found and changed into clean clothes. Dumping the stuff I wore on the plane into a bin while trying not to look suspicious (you can’t be too careful…) I applied a fresh mask and practically drowned myself in disinfectant spray before leaving the airport, hoping I had been careful enough.
And I was! Proves that if you distance right, wash your hands, wear a mask and just be alert then you can prevent the spread of coronavirus. And if everyone around you adheres to these rules too then, even better.
Since returning to England I’ve been planning my next steps for my photography. It hasn’t been easy due to the pandemic. I managed to trip to the four falls trails at Brecon National Park before becoming busy again with a second move. This time only to another city though.
Since then, I’ve been exploring Gloucestershire, where I am currently positioned. The weather has been oddly grim for weeks on end, but then that is The UK's Winter season for you. I have been mostly taking local snapshots, the flooded fields after days of rain and views by the Severn River. Although these images aren’t necessarily ones I’d showcase on my website or physically print, they’ve kept a camera in my hand and my mind occupied while I dodge the every spreading virus sweeping the globe.
Ending a break in photography can be difficult sometimes. Not knowing where the best
places for certain types of photography are means a lot of trial and error, which can be disheartening when images just don’t work regardless of the effort. I'm so used to knowing where to go in Korea depending on the seasons or weather that having to research and plan more so than normal has me caught off guard a little.
My future photography goals have seemingly shifted too and it feels like I am trying to find my feet again. But I know this is something that I will overcome with time. I have to remind myself that the fun of photography is getting out and exploring and there is no fun in worrying over how many images I am or not producing right now.
This year was not my year, or anyones year in fact. So instead, it is up to me to make next year THAT year… so I can do my smug ‘look at what I accomplished this year’ face. I have many ideas and projects lined up (which I refuse to reveal and jinx just yet in case Coronavirus has other plans for 2021) So make sure to be following me on social media so you don’t miss a thing! *shameless social media plug here* (Yes, that is how I am going to end this post ha)
As usual, thank you for reading and supporting the photography. Let’s see if I can make more than two blog posts next year. Happy 2021!!
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