South Korea, North Korea

Last fall, I asked my mom to take a trip with me to Korea. I haven’t been there in over 15 years, and wanted to experience my birth country as an adult. Earlier this month, it seemed I couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing about Kim Jong-Un’s latest threats to bomb everyone. Really put a damper on our well laid plans.

A few days before our trip, my mom called. The conversation went something like this:

  • Mom: Have you seen the news?
  • Me: Yes.
  • Mom: So what do you think?
  • Me: What do you think?
  • Mom: Well, it’s probably OK.
  • Me: What do your friends who live in Korea think? Are they worried?
  • Mom: (kind of scoffing) No. They’re more worried about the weather. Like storms.

So two days later, we boarded Korean Airlines Flight 062 for Seoul/Incheon.

Many of my friends questioned my judgment. “Interesting time to be visiting Korea…” they’d say. My boyfriend was even a little worried — “I kind of feel like I’m never going to see you again.”

But of course, everything was fine and I’m so glad we went. Not to diminish the seriousness of current political tensions, but I figure there will always be reasons to not do something. And frankly, I did suspect US news media was being a little alarmist. Case in point – the top news stories on KBC when we first arrived in Korea had to do with a pig that got free in a shopping mall, and Psy’s latest single, “Gentleman.” Seriously, I saw Psy on the news almost every day I was in Korea.

And then of course, the Boston Marathon happened. And that was all we saw on the news for a while. I won’t delve into the irony of going to a possible nuclear target, just to have a terrorist attack happen so much closer to home – but suffice it to say it makes one think.

In any case, not what I want to focus on here. What I want to focus on is how much I loved Seoul. Unexpectedly so. What I remembered was a city that was too big, crowded, congested, dirty, and loud. The city I met last month is still impossibly large (the second largest metropolitan area in the world, after Tokyo). But it’s clean, modern, vibrant and has a whole new energy. It’s a mash-up of things old and new – ancient palaces and Buddhist temples next to ultra modern high rises. People are everywhere – locals and tourists – and they’re all on their way somewhere.

I could go on and on. I haven’t even begun to process all the other places I visited in Korea, from Jeju Island to Pyeongchang (Winter Olympics 2018). For now, I’ll end with two contrasting images of Seoul.

Gyeong Bok Gung Palace in Seoul - the rear garden of the concubines' quarters

Gyeong Bok Gung Palace in Seoul – the rear garden of the concubines’ quarters

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View of Seoul from Namsan tower.

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Country Strong at Molly Malone’s

Last Wednesday my friend Darice played with this band at Molly Malone’s. They performed covers of an old Willie Nelson album I had never heard of. While I am always amazed at the talents of my friend, I did realize that night that Willie Nelson is a little too hard core country for me. Carrie Underwood is more my speed. Yep, watered down pop country – that’s for me.

Also, having a girl on the fiddle is hot.

Jazzed About Jazz

I recently learned that one of my friends has a dad who is a professional jazz saxophonist. How cool is that? I mean really.

Last night he performed with his band at Vitello’s in Studio City. I have to confess, I’m sometimes not big on jazz. It can sound all crazy and make me feel on edge. But I really enjoyed Mike Pedicin’s band. They were smooth and mellow, and then groovy and lively, and I completely “got” how people get so into hanging out at jazz clubs. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how riveting it is to watch jazz musicians perform live. It’s as though they are transported to another world – an intimate jazz world, and we get a peek.

One final note about Vitello’s – the music is definitely the draw. I thought the food was eh.

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Rock & Roll Photography

Last weekend my girlfriends and I went to see the “Who Shot Rock & Roll” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Very cool exhibit. One thing my friends and I noticed was the conspicuous lack of Annie Leibovitz’s work. We’re pretty sure there was some snubbing going on. (Either she snubbed them, or Annenberg snubbed her — maybe it was mutual snubbing.)

In any case, seeing all those images made me want to shoot a band. Lucky for me, one of my friends was playing at a club that very night with her band “The Coals.” When the universe is this strong with its hints, I try to listen.

And listen I did, for The Coals sounded GREAT, with their soulful, folksy, blues-y brand of rock. I especially love that the band had an accordion and an upright bass. Character and class, baby. These are my favorite shots from that night at the Dakota Lounge in Santa Monica.

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I Could Have Done Better – Portraits of Olympic Athletes

If you aren’t a photographer, you may not be aware of the veritable uproar over the “shoddy” portraits of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Athletes. In a nutshell, Joseph Klamar (Agence France Presse) photographed dozens of U.S. Olympians during the Olympic Media Summit in May, and the pictures are pretty terrible. Poor Joe. I feel bad for him. Apparently, the sub-par portraits were a result of lack of preparation, and photographing outside his comfort zone. Some examples and Klamar’s explanations for his controversial portraits can be found here:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/portraits-olympic-athletes-called-shoddy-embarrasment/story?id=16718148#.T_tbtI7TKpo

What I find amazing is all the theories that pop up for why this happened. I’ve read speculations that Klamar was trying to make a statement about how Olympic athletes are human, and these portraits were meant to portray their lack of perfection. One guy actually believes we’ll look back on these portraits as art.

Give me a break. It’s as though no one can believe this could happen by mistake. I think it’s so easy to take good photography for granted, that it’s hard for people to believe anyone could mess up this badly. Surprise – good photography takes skill and preparation. If you take a photojournalist and throw him into a studio setting without giving him time to prepare, this is what happens. It’s not art. It’s not a statement. It’s incompetence.

I’m not blaming Joe. Like I said, I feel bad for the guy. And he actually did manage to pull off a couple of good ones, like this one of Brittney Reese, which I think is terrific (If you’re on an iPad this will link to the start of a slideshow. The photo I’m talking about is slide 31.):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/picturegalleries/9270482/London-2012-Olympics-portraits-of-Team-USA-athletes.html?frame=2221383

That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons. If Joe had been an experienced portrait photographer, I think he could have pulled off more gems like this one.

I am also perplexed as to why Joe didn’t do a harder edit of these. Perhaps he didn’t have a choice in the matter. But then I’m perplexed as to why Getty chose to publish these photos. The whole thing is weird.

And now – to join the bandwagon of photographers thinking, “I could have done better…”

My shot of a Junior Olympic track athlete, from a couple of years ago:

Yes, I would have taken people outside, into natural light. But say I couldn’t, here’s an example of what I would have done in studio:

And I have yet to photograph gymnasts, but here’s an idea of what I would have done:

So what do you think – could you have done better than Joe?

Attack of the Killer White Doves

June has been an extremely busy month. Between all the new portrait sessions I’ve done at medical offices, graduation-related events, and new assignments for ehow, I was wondering what images to spotlight for the month.

Today I got my answer. Not necessarily for the images I got, but for the absurdity of what happened as I was shooting.

This morning I had the privilege of photographing a graduation for a wonderful private school in the Palisades. For the ceremony’s grand finale, hundreds of white doves were released from behind the stage.

As I shot fervently, trying to capture the magic of the moment, I caught this:

The aggressiveness of these doves, or maybe just lack of direction, was apparent.

What I should have been paying attention to was this:

Photo by Brett Sobel

This image was taken by my 2nd shooter. No, he did not try to warn me of the attack. He probably thought I saw it coming. Or he wants to shoot the graduation himself next year. (Just kidding, B)

And actually, I did see it flying at me through my camera lens. I just didn’t figure the bird would continue to fly straight at my camera and my face.

In this last shot, you can see the graduates laughing, and me checking to make sure my camera is OK. I suffered no harm. Hope that dove is OK. No, wait, that dove is an idiot and could have damaged my camera. I hope he sprained his stupid wing. Does my insurance cover damage by flying doves? Time to make a phone call.

Photo by Brett Sobel

Paso Robles, CA

Today I learned that Paso Robles is the fastest growing city in San Luis Obispo County, and after this weekend I can understand why. Paso is quaint and charming, with an explosion of wineries and top-notch restaurants. It’s a nice 3.5 hour drive from Los Angeles along the 101, with views of rolling hills on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

My friends and I stayed at the lovely Venteux Vineyard. They have an amazing guest house that must be newly constructed or recently renovated. It sits on a small hilltop, away from the main house and tasting room, and I love that there are bales of hay out front. If you’re thinking of visiting the area, I highly recommend staying at Venteux.

Favorite Winery: Whalebone. It’s family run, and they are a very cool and good-looking bunch. But that’s not why it’s my fave. Not only do they have great wines, but they also offer a great selection of flavored olive oils, mustards, and jams. The day we went they were also serving free samples of a delicious homemade tri-tip chili with their balsamic glaze.

Favorite Restaurant: Il Cortile. This may be the best italian food I have ever had outside of Italy. All the pasta is made fresh, and the sauces are delicious. I had the lobster spaghetti, which was a special that evening, and it was so flavorful, but not heavy. My BF had the chilean sea bass and it was perfectly cooked. The mashed potatoes that came on the side were the best I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t know potatoes could be that creamy, and yet they didn’t taste laden down with butter.

Trip Highlight: Private tour at Denner. Thanks to the schmoozing talents of our friend MK, we were treated to a private tour of this impressive winery. Denner is a 108 acre vineyard that is large enough to sell over half of their fruit to other wineries. Other makers even produce their wine here. We got a special glimpse of Saxum bottles waiting to be filled after the holiday weekend. I learned that this was a big deal – Saxum goes for a respectable $100 or so per bottle, but that’s if you can get your hands on one. The waiting list is two years.

Please enjoy some of my favorite images from Paso – Of particular amusement (or horror, depending on your point of view) is the winery that had caged geese with a conversation-starter of a sign. (I assure you, the owners intended this as a joke. The geese seemed very happy.)