This year’s Academy Awards Best Picture winner Parasite introduced the world to two very distinct Seoul communities. However, Bong Joon-ho’s black comedy was not designed to be realistic, and there is much more to South Korea’s capital than the neighborhoods of the very rich and very poor.
First-time visitors are often surprised as Seoul’s size. The population of the metro area is almost 10 million, larger even than New York City’s 8.6 million.
Seoul and its surrounding areas – such as the port city of Incheon, the electronics hub of Suwon and various modern dormitory towns that have sprung up on its outskirts – are home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people.
The full extent of this vast megacity cannot be seen from any one, single vista – even from the summits of the mountains that backdrop Seoul.
The city consists of many and varied neighborhoods of all classes of people. This collection of images does not concentrate on Seoul’s tourism sites and districts, and does not capture Seoul’s most obvious, obtrusive (and dull) architectural feature, its ubiquitous and endless apartment clusters.
Nor does it depict the very wealthy or the very poor. Rather, it looks at the bourgeoisie – the class to which most Koreans believe they belong, in spite of wide disparities in wealth – in a handful of low-rise districts.
All the depicted neighborhoods are in Gangbok – meaning literally, river, north – located north of the Han River which bisects the city. Gangbok is the more traditional half of Seoul, as opposed to the newer Gangnam, literally, river, south, below the Han.
Not only do the neighborhoods vary in appearance, but also their denizens, whose appearances and demeanors reflect their ages, lifestyles, outlooks and well being.
On a technical note, several of the photos below are collages of multiple images photographed on a tripod to capture the widest possible variety of people in a single location.
For a more extensive collection of Tom Coyner’s images, please visit: https://seoulman.smugmug.com/Other/Korean-Neighborhoods/)