Occasional Moments of Brilliance

Photography that is always great, and occasionally brilliant.

Posts from the ‘Culture’ category

Revolutionary Times

The sound of the cannon was surprisingly loud. I’ve been to the range a few times. I had listened to the warning over the PA system. Yet I was still stunned by the boom of the 3 and 5 lbs cannon. My camera was ready and focused for the first volley but I was so shaken that I didn’t shoot a single frame.

After camping out in 18th conditions for a few days, the red coats squared off against the colonists on the green at Cantigny. The combatants seemed filled with genuine enjoyment as they engaged each other on the field. They were equally enthusiastic later as they conversed with visitors in the temporary village. Participants repaired clothing and gear, read period books, wrote letters and cooked over open flames. All the while doing demonstrations and answering questions.

It took me a moment to adjust to the feel and flow of reenacted 1700’s style warfare. The split second pause between trigger pull and the weapon firing as musket flint struck steel in particular was challenging. In addition, it was difficult to  avoid distracting background elements in the battle images.

60 Years


Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. To this day, there are reminders everywhere of a conflict that officially continues. Two years of military service are required which means 20-something men in uniform, fresh out of basic training are a common sight on the streets and subways of Seoul. Sometimes while walking home I would see camouflage painted faces peering out of the bushes at the base of the mountain behind my building. This same mountain was home to a few barbed wire protected areas connected by ribbons of interconnected sandbag trenches punctuated by poured concrete pillboxes. I found these elaborate defenses strange until I realized that these mountains, that I lived at the bottom of, would be the first line of defense south of the Han River.

I also learned that the ridge was populated with landmines when I was awoken one morning by minesweepers preparing their equipment outside my window. They were getting ready to move into the area damaged by the mudslide to search for mines that had washed down the mountain.

The closest that many people can get to North Korea is a handful of parks including places like the ‘Freedom Bridge’. Many of the adults I know rarely speak about the war, only of sadness for family members lost on the other side of the border.  In contrast the students that I interacted with daily, when their focus shifted to international issues, seemed far more concerned about their Japanese neighbors than those to the north.

It seems it’s just a matter of perspective though. My American friends regularly asked if I was worried about North Korean invasion and just as often, my Korean friends inquired if my family was safe from swine flu.


The sunset image above was captured on a staff trip to a memorial park near the border. It’s as close as many South Koreans can get to lost friends and relatives. Because of this the fence topped with barbed wire is covered with notes and letters to them. I shot this image 55mm, 1/1250 sec. at f22, and bracketed by one stop. I took a spot meter reading off of the Korean flag as it was a good middle value between the red sky and dark fence and papers.


This summer’s pre-national volleyball tournament at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora, Illinois brought in dozens of teams from around the country. The gymnasium pulsed with the sound of simultaneous matches. Families, fans and other teams had to occasionally dodge errant spiked volleyballs. Thrown into this mix was a group of high school aged Chinese nationals who were training at the center for the month. I was curious about this team of tall thin players with close cropped, bob style haircuts. The gym reverberated with shouts, cheers and whistles which made it impossible to hear what any of the team members were saying which made it easier to focus on the difference in playing styles. Besides being consistently taller than the other teams, their style seemed to be for lack of a better term, more businesslike. They were clearly happy and excited to be there, but their play and celebrations between points seemed more reserved and serious. The coaches appeared to be more distant and focused on fine-tuning technical aspects of their young charges, as opposed to cheering and encouraging them along the way.

I was reminded again of these athletes when I read about the Chinese government’s medal goal in the London Olympics, called Project 119. The plan is for the Chinese delegation to win medals in 119 events. I wondered what kind of life awaited these athletes once their American tour was finished. Having lived in Seoul, I’m familiar with the crushing social pressure to succeed leading to all day and all night cram sessions. It wasn’t unusual to see students still in uniform dozing on the bus home at 11pm. Then I read about some of these young Chinese athletes who hadn’t been home for more than a handful of days during most of the last decade, missing birthdays, holidays and the passing of loved ones.

One of coaches at the Great Lakes Center laughed a little when he mentioned how these girls would jump at the opportunity to go out for fast food, or shopping after training all day. Maybe, knowing that in a few short weeks they would go home to a strict, government-controlled program that could lead to them being labeled either a hero or a national disgrace…they decided it was time for a cheeseburger.