Jeju-do with Family: A Korean Photo Essay

15 April 2011

Jackson Eaton Korean photo ess

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It might be possible that you fall in love instantly, I suppose. That the skinny girl behind the bar – who you talk to because you’re drunk and who, to your surprise, has similar taste in music and who, despite the confusion caused by a protective boss, does not in fact have a husband and who is genuinely pleased to see you when you return to that bar two nights later to dance for her and scrawl your number on a napkin and kiss on her soft cheek at dawn – is actually your true love and not the subject of a standard chance beginning to a relationship of indeterminate length. Well, based on a prior record of three to five months – depending on how upset she is and how severe your confusion – this is when you suddenly start not feeling much. It could be possible. But it could also be possible that you just needed her, then.

It was before the Christmas of 2008 when my brother and his girlfriend came to visit my dad and I in Seoul. That’s over three years ago now and I didn’t keep a diary at the time. I have some memories, and I have some photos, and I have some memories from some photos. And I have some emails.

Dec. 1 (excerpt)

dear darling
so what/how do u want me to help you?
you guys should make up mind tonight and tell me otherwise it’d be too late for booking resort so, set the date and tell me tmr morning.
and no worries about price honey, it’s expensive but for your family and it’s a great chance to chill out and have fun together. it doesn’t happen all the time
so don’t complain or be grumpy, right?

My dad and I had decided to show my brother and his girlfriend Jeju-do. An island frequented by honeymooners, famous for its ponies, stone grandfather statues and haenyo – ‘sea-women’ who free dive for abalone and conch in the bitterly cold water almost all year round. My girlfriend didn’t come with us, which meant I used my recently schooled Korean to help us through the bus-ports and restaurants and gift shops and check-ins. There is no real story here, sorry. I remember seeing my dad lying naked, hairy and sweaty in the resort sauna. I don’t have a picture of that. I remember hiking to the lip of Sangumburi Crater, seeing a rabbit and the underwhelmingly diffuse dawning of the sun on an overcast winter morning. I have an underexposed picture of that. I remember carrying from tourist attraction to tourist attraction the deep suspicion that it was only really Korea that kept us together.

Dec. 4 (excerpt)

so, why did u get cynical?
we see the same thing everyday
we talk about the same thing everyday
we meet in the same place
we have sex in the same room
I call you everyday.
you say hi everyday

After the trip we were to fly to Australia for a six-week holiday. After nearly three years I was going home. She would visit Australia for the first time and meet my mum and see my childhood home and all the other things about my other life. We were to travel on 22 December, which was her sister’s birthday. I had insisted we fly that day so we could be home in time to spend an extra day with mum before the relatives arrived. It’s one of those decisions that for some reason I still dwell on. A poignant example of my selfishness, superficial in comparison to some of the other atrocities yet through incidental practice or some other reason it stays in my mind. Like the time I made her go and get my dad from the subway station half way through our DJ set because he’d gotten off at the wrong exit. Or the time I left her in the bedroom with a bad insect bite because I was more interested in playing boardgames.

Feb. 5 (excerpt)

the reason why I happen to decide to wait for you is, I clearly know or I assume strongly, that
I know you haven’t cancelled the ticket.
I know it’s stupid to think like this but I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t stop hoping something again.
I just wanted to tell you if, if you decide to stay there (I know you have already but)
and 100% sure that there won’t be any chance to restart this relationship again
(I know you’ve told me already but) please, tell me.

I arrived at her house unannounced. There were people sitting around on the porch. They were all very well dressed and it appeared as if some were town dignitaries and some were family. Her mum greeted me with a huge smile. While I waited outside, some people tried to make polite conversation but I was distracted, anxious about seeing her and besides I had forgotten much of the Korean I had learned. She appeared, looking quite fragile and not at all surprised to see me. We went for a walk with her sister. We came to a large felled tree trunk that was twisted and charred. We rolled it over and it looked perfect but she was disappointed; it wouldn’t do. Suddenly I realised what she needed it for. She would use it to build her own coffin. I felt so sad and with embarrassment tried to explain that I had not simply come to see her one last time. I awoke from this dream (this morning) in tears. It might be possible that you just needed her I suppose. But that might not matter. You fell in love, then.

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About Jackson Eaton

Jackson Eaton is a contemporary artist working primarily in the photographic medium. His practice is often emotively driven and explores ideas surrounding identity, intimacy and disconnectedness. Currently based in Perth, Western Australia, Eaton has held four solo exhibitions and participated in numerous national and international group exhibitions. His images have been published widely and are held in private collections around the world. In 2011 he was awarded an Australia Council grant under the Jump Mentorship program. He is currently working towards his fifth solo exhibition.

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