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Monday, December 27, 2010

Young Photographer Captures Timeless Moments on Jeju

Top: Bethany Carlson's striking image of fellow English-language teacher Rachael Darden demonstrates the photographer's use of landscape in her portraiture. Photo by Bethany Carlson.

Center: Jenie Hahn, a lecturer at Jeju National University and the host of Arirang Radio's "All That Jeju" program, is one of many Jeju residents Carlson has photographed. Photo by Bethany Carlson

Carlson is equally at ease on either side of the camera. Photo by Angela Jacobus

Jeju Island, South Korea, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- Like many other young teachers of English in South Korea, Bethany Carlson came to the country partly out of a desire for travel and partly to pay off debt.

The country was, in fact, her second choice, but her recruiter recommended it over Japan as a better fit for her in terms of lifestyle and compensation. The 25-year-old has no regrets.

"Coming to Korea was one of the best decisions I have ever made," she said.

Carlson arrived on Jeju, an island-province off the Korean Peninsula's southern coast, in February 2010 to work for the English Program in Korea, a state-run initiative to expose children in public schools to native English-speaking teachers.

But it is for her leisure-time activity of photography that she is becoming best known, with residents and visitors to the island lining up to have her shoot their portraits. The resulting portfolio can be seen on her Bethany Carlson Photography Facebook page and on her blog at

A self-described "Air Force brat," Carlson was born in Hawaii but has lived in Oklahoma, California, Colorado and Ohio, and now considers San Diego her hometown. When she decided to work in Korea, Jeju was her first choice, thanks to research done by a friend who had initially planned to accompany her.

"She said, 'When you request, request for Jeju. That's the beach area and it's so nice.' I put it on my application and I got it," Carlson said.

Her photography shows the beauty of the island and captures the personalities of her portrait subjects. Jeju being a relatively small community, almost all here know many of Carlson's models.

The photographer puts her subjects instantly at ease and captures the essence of each individual vividly.

She says she is not a landscape photographer and seemed surprised when it was pointed out that the unique Jeju backdrop is a secondary subject in much of her work.

"When I say I don't do landscapes, I mean I can't look at a hill and be inspired," she said. "But a hill and person -- then I'm inspired!"

Although Carlson has loved photography since childhood, it was only after buying a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera in April that she got seriously involved in taking pictures.

Her interest in portraiture came almost by accident, when she wanted to repay a favor done for her by another English-speaking native speaker in Korea, Jack Quinn.

Quinn asked her to take some photos for his grandmother at home in the United States. Other friends asked her to photograph them, then their friends and "word of mouth spread around the island."

She now spends every weekend photographing and has shot subjects from "five continents and 13 countries." Apart from a two-week "Bethany-time" period before she is scheduled to leave Korea in February 2011, Carlson is booked solid with people wanting her to photograph them before she goes.

"It's been amazing that I've been able to have a job that brings in money while I do this and try to learn and go through the rough patches of trying to figure out what type of photographer I am and what my niche is," she said. "Korea gave me the time, resources, inspiration and desire to take my hobby to the next level."

She said she uses three words to best represent her individual photographic style; "The first is audacious -- I really want each photo to be bold in some way. Then, genuine -- I try to keep it genuine and do as little editing as possible."

Her third keyword is "timeless," she said. "I love that I can capture a person at a particular moment in time and bring out where they are at that moment."

Her year on Jeju has been one in which she has pushed herself the hardest she ever has, she said, even apart from photography. "God showed me more of myself and I have learned to appreciate who I am as a woman, a Christian, a traveler, a professional and an American."

When she returns "from the chaos of Korea to the chaos of America," she will be "starting from scratch" materially, with no "car, house, job, license, insurance or anything."

What she will have is the portfolio she has built while here and a goal to make her living as a photographer, specializing in couple and boudoir portraiture. She does not rule out returning to Korea some day, especially if visa conditions change to allow English teachers to work in secondary fields.

"I never want to go back to an office job again," she said. "That's my goal in life."

From the quality of her work and the enthusiastic response from her subjects, their friends and her followers, it seems a goal she will be able to achieve.

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