Story of a Self-Taught Professional Mountain Photographer
Never-ending passion for mountains
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Known as a mountainous country, South Korea is famous for the year-round beauty of both small and huge mountains along with never-ending groups of hikers. Despite the obvious attraction of the mountains’ natural aspects, it is still possible for people to miss the hidden beauty in the depths of the mountains. It is these moments that Cho Myung-hwan (Department of Electronic Engineering, ’82), the passionate self-made photographer, likes to catch.
Turning Point at the Age 50
Cho was not a professional photographer from the start. In fact, ever since Cho graduated from Hanyang University (HYU) as an electronic engineering student, he had been working at a few IT related companies for about 10 years before voluntary retirement at the age 50. According to Cho, he had promised himself that when he turned 50, he would do something that he truly loved and had passion for. However, this did not mean he switched to photography right away.
According to Cho, in 2004 he started hiking Baekdu Mountain and ran into a friend with whom he promised to later complete the whole Baekdudaegan Mountain Range hiking course. Every Saturday for 2 years, they hiked together, and Cho used the opportunities to take pictures which he then uploaded on his blog, attracting much attention and praise from his surrounding followers. “I’m a self-taught professional mountain photographer of 14 years, and I am still working and studying very hard everyday to improve,” said Cho.
As a mountain photographer
When asked if he had ever been interested in taking photos of other subjects, Cho instantly replied that he is only interested in mountains. He believes that Korean mountains hold the true Korean soul and identity, and that he wants to capture and show it through his pictures. He also does not like what has been touched and trampled on by people, so he only wants to capture the raw beauty of nature. That is why all the photo books he has self-published include “raw things” in the title. Cho said, “What I’m doing is a form of art and expression. You need to learn how to appreciate and understand the mountain in order to take good pictures. If you hike just to take pictures, those pictures are never going to become more than just ‘a picture.’”
For years he had gone hiking day and night regardless of the time in order to capture the rare moments of natural beauty. His schedule, thus, was never fixed as he had to hike on rainy and snowy days, and even at dawn and the deepest darkest nights. He believes that creativity is always the most important part of art and has never been afraid to take on challenges to photograph these untouched parts and moments of the mountain that most hikers are not really aware of. However, it is not always easy, even for an experienced hiker like Cho, as it is quite common for him to hike for more than 6 hours and take hundreds of pictures without getting any satisfactory results.
Cho has also consistently been working on calendars and books and opening photo galleries in order to give the public more access to his pictures. He mentioned that the hardest part of being a photographer was not in the physical, but financial aspects. For 14 years he did not have stable income even with the ID photo studio that he owns. He has also had to find ways to publish all the books and calendars of his photos at a cheaper price. Later on he even learned how to design them from scratch himself and sold them on the internet. “This is why a lot of people are scared to try something new. I also wouldn’t recommend for young people to simply go for it, to be honest. If you’re old like me, that’s a different story. If you’re young, I’d say you have a stable job first, and then try it as a side job,” said Cho. Along with his realistic advice, Cho mentioned how he wants to continue hiking and photographing the raw beauty of mountains in Korea, but also in other countries if he ever gets the chance to.
Park Joo-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Choi Min-ju
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