Panorama of Busan, South Korea from Ibagu-gil

Through the Lens: Busan

Last week I was in Busan shooting a story for The South China Morning Post. I lived most of the past 13 years in Busan. Now that I’ve moved to Nagoya, Japan, going back to shoot a travel story let me see the city through a traveler’s eyes, and it brought back memories from when I first landed in the country in 2002. This assignment reminded me of all Busan has to offer. The story, written by Mathew Scott, has some great tips on where to go and what to do if you’re visiting for the Busan International Film Festival next month. Busan, though, is a great place to visit any time of the year. Click on the first image for a photographic tour of some of my favorite places in Busan.

Check out another gallery of my images from Busan’s many traditional markets, featured on BBC News.

korea photographer buddhas birthday busan monk buddhism

Buddha’s Birthday at Neunginsa

Over the past five years living in Sasang-gu, I’ve explored many of the local temples, and have even come to know some of the monks fairly well–well enough to get good access for photographs and share the occasional tea, coffee or beer. Sorry to spoil any illusions–some monks drink beer.

The Buddha’s Birthday is a major holiday in Korea, and temples across the country light up with beautiful paper lanterns, drawing crowds who come to pray, eat bibimbap, and take lots of pictures. As the Buddha’s Birthday approached this year, I decided I wanted to stay local, stay away from big crowds, and try to make some intimate photographs of this important part of Korea’s Buddhist heritage.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Neunginsa (“sa” is the Korean word signifying a temple), located at the base of Baekyang Mountain in western Busan, is only one hundred years old. The temple, however, plays an important role in the neighborhood, and also has strong ties with older and more well-known temples in the Jogye Order. The temple is just a five minute walk from my apartment, and my wife and I have visited it many times, even having tea on occasion with Yong-un, the head monk.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Yong-un, the head monk at Neunginsa

I approached Yong-un about a week before the celebrations to see if it’d be okay for me to photograph on the big day. He’s pretty fond of saying in English, “Sure, no problem,” and this time was no different. With Yong-un’s permission, I now had the access I needed to get really close to the story, and to make these images.

If you’d like, listen to an audio recording from the final ceremony of the day as you view the images:

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

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korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea photographer buddhas birthday busan monk buddhism

In the evening, devotees lit paper lanterns and walked in a procession through the temple grounds, chanting and praying.

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

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korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

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korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

Some more portraits of Yong-un:

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

korea buddhism busan photographer photojournalist

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All images in this post by Ben Weller, all rights reserved. See more pictures from this series and others at www.wellerpix.com.

For more (amazing!) pictures of Buddha’s Birthday celebrations, and for some great photography tips, check out my friend Jason Teale’s excellent post on his approach to photographing the holiday this year.