Review: Seoul Metro Project

EDITED by Flash Parker in collaboration with the Seoul Photo Club, the moniker ’Seoul Metro Project’ is slightly vague, yet perfectly appropriate. 100 years from now (assuming future computers can read PDFs or that the human race survives that long), the book will live as a tangible time capsule of the life and times of the Korean subway.

The project, two years in the making, offers a more in-depth look at the Seoul subway system – sometimes referred to as a living breathing organism that takes on a life of its own. While it may sound trivial to wax philosophical about a form of transportation, the project is taken seriously by the 17 photographers involved. Covering a subway line – even a modestly short one – requires getting out at each station, exploring the facilities, and waiting for the best natural light or combination of elements. That can take months, especially when combined with work or other photography projects.

It’s clear the book was meant to be enjoyed in the print format; while the PDF carries the same pictures, there’s a bit of a loss when two facing pages carry one image (as happens several times). Working with your display device will make the picture come together, of course. The pictures display brilliantly on my iPad, but give the machine a second to fully render the photos – they’re not meant to be flipped through any quicker than that.

With only a few paragraphs dedicated to each photographer’s personal statement about each line, the focus is almost completely on the book’s good-to-excellent photography. As photographers volunteered to shoot specific lines or parts of lines – not necessarily the ones closest to their home or work – you can sense how connected they got to the lines. That’s one interesting aspect of the story – since riding the rails is such a typical element of life in Seoul, one has to go a bit outside the normal experience to get an interesting shot.

While the photo selection is interesting, the book suffers from some duplicity. There’s only so many ways to portray the brick patterns, pillars, blurs of people passing by the train’s light trails, and the characters you see while underground. That said, the individual subway stations have enough fascinating and unique vantages or elements to shoot. I would’ve loved to see a bit more on the digital edition, however – anything from enlarging the picture to some captions or context that only appeared when you tapped on it.

The project uses MagCloud as the publisher – an excellent quality, if expensive, way to produce a print volume. As a result, the $45 USD price tag plus shipping may be a bit much for the casual coffee book. At a fair $10 USD for the PDF version, however, the photos become instantly enjoyable anywhere you can read PDF’s.

Recommended, if you’re a photo buff, a subway lover, or enjoy taking inspiration from other photographers.

Buy the print version on MagCloud and get the PDF version free, or just buy the PDF.

BONUS DRINKING GAME AWESOMENESS: flip to a random page in the book (or PDF) – first person to name which subway station a photo was taken at chooses a person to drink. If no one can place a photo, everyone drinks.