Footsteps of My Father: Captivating Before/After Photos of Korea

Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel

In the basement of my parent’s house, buried deep beneath some old tools, a bulky laptop running Windows 95′, my mother’s childhood dolls, plastic tubs of multi-colored legos, and piles of books, was a wooden box full of Kodachrome slides.

At times I would go through that box, hold the slides up to the light, and try to figure out what was on them. Most were from 1979, the year my family left the US and moved to South Korea. We lived on a small semitropical island called Jeju, about 60 miles off the southern coast of the peninsula.

My dad went there to teach English as an exchange teacher for his alma mater Central Connecticut State University. In his free time he went out and documented the island’s changing landscape. When I interviewed him about his photography project and island life, he said:

“I knew that Jeju was going to change forever. [My boss at Jeju National University] Dr. Koh told me about the billions of won that the government was going to pour into the island for development. Being ‘modern’ was more important to them than preserving the unique culture of Jeju. I knew lots would be lost forever so I wanted to preserve a small slice with my shots.”

37 Years Later 

Fast forward almost four decades and news of Jeju’s unfettered growth has spread across the globe. For instance, the New York Times recently published articles about the controversial militarization of the island and the negative effects of unbridled tourism.

Like my father, I also taught English in Korea. I had the chance to see the changes for myself. After hearing the reason for his project, I felt like the next step would be to go back and photograph the same locations he shot.

From the moment I arrived on Jeju it was a Sherlock-Holmes-like adventure trying to figure out where the photos were taken. It was a thrill whenever I found the location of the original picture and bizarre to think my dad stood on the same place decades ago. I was reliving his journey as well as our family’s.

My Process

Rather than show the pictures side-by-side, I decided to present the images as a ‘photo within a photo’. I merged my dad’s pictures from 1979 inside the frame of my photos from 2016. My goal was to present the pictures as a single body of work, one vision.

I tried to find a central point to link each picture like the windows of a building or outline of a mountain. In some instances, it was impossible to know where the picture was taken, so I used some artistic license to complete the image.

Has Jeju changed? Absolutely, as we all have. Yet there are some things that will always stay the same.

Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeju City, Jeju Island – Then: the Tamna Cultural Festival parade passes through the intersection of Jeungang St. and Gwandeok St. Note the date in the middle of the banner says 79.10.18. Now: the Tamna Festival will celebrate its 55th year in 2016. Italy Eyeglass shop (left street corner – Ee-tal-ri An-gyeong) is still there today.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Then: A ferry docks at what is now the Jeju City Ferry Terminal, most likely to bring passengers to Seoul, Mokpo, or Busan. Now: The Seju Line ship sits at the dock before it transports goods to Korea’s second largest city Busan, about 12 hours away by sea. In the background is Sarabong Mountain or ‘oreum’ (Jeju dialect for small volcanic mountain).
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Seogwipo Harbor, Jeju Island – Then: a fisherman paddles a traditional Jeju raft or ‘taewo’. Many parts of the island coastline are in shallow water with a rocky volcanic bottom. Built out of bouyant Korean fir trees, the boat was used to harvest and transport seaweed, as well as a place to cast fishing nets from. Now: a fisherman boards his boat.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
New Jeju City, Jeju Island – Then: the newly built Jaewon Apartments, completed in 1977, were the tallest and nicest on the island. It’s where our family lived. Note the outhouse in the lower-left corner of the photo. Now: the apartments are still there. The “B” on the side of the building in the new photo is the one in the old photo. In other words, these are the same apartment blocks except from a different viewpoint.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
New Jeju, Jeju Island – Then: from the top of Namjeoteun Mtn. you can see New Jeju before it was completed (photo on right). The Jaewon Apartment complex is visible in the middle of the photo. The green area along the coastline is where the airport is. Now: New Jeju is a concrete sea of apartment blocks.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
New Jeju City, Jeju – Then: a landscaper tends to tree saplings along Shindaero or New Main Street. During the 70s, Jeju City expanded rapidly into what is now known as New Jeju or Shin Jeju. Now: a soldier walks along the same street, only the trees have grown, as have the buildings. In the background is Namjeoteun mtn.
Jeju, Pete, DeMarco, Photography
Jeju Island – Then: cars driving over Halla Mountain would often stop at this viewpoint to take a photo. Now: the viewpoint is still there, note the volcanic boulders in both pictures. In the background is Beomseom Island.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeju City, Jeju Island – Then: Yongduam or Dragon Head Rock was one of the island’s most iconic locations. Now: tour buses full of tourists fill the parking lot. Plane after plane of visitors from Korea, China and beyond land at the airport nearby.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeju City, Jeju Island – Then: The KAL (Korean Airlines) Hotel seen in the middle of this photo was the only tall building on the island. Now: The KAL Hotel is still there. Note the current red and blue Korean Airlines logo and the old red logo below it. Also, the location where this photo was taken, from Tapdeong, also didn’t exist as it was reclaimed from the sea.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeju City, Jeju Island – Then: guests arrive at the KAL Hotel. Now: although the building and the doorman outfits have received a makeover, the original light fixtures on the ceiling remain.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeju City, Jeju – Then: the sun sets over the Jeju City port and Halla Mtn. Now: Although the two photos were taken from the same location, the water lines do not match. The reason is that the city area along the port was extended out to sea through land reclamation, so what is now coastline used to be open water.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Hyeopjae Beach, Jeju – Then: A model poses during a photoshoot. Now: Jeju’s pristine beaches are a major tourist draw.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
West Coast, Jeju – Then: farmers work the fields, mainly millet, barley, and buckwheat. Unlike mainland Korea, there are very few rice paddies due to the lack of water. Now: although agriculture is still an important part of the local economy, tourism continues to take on a greater role. Property boundary walls made of black volcanic rock can still be seen throughout the countryside.
Chejudo, Island, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea, Peter DeMarco, South Korea, asia, now, photography, then, travel
Jeongbang Waterfall, Seogwipo, Jeju Island – Then: photographer Tony DeMarco in 1979 (age 32). Now: photographer Pete DeMarco in 2016 (age 42).
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Author: Pete DeMarco

Pete DeMarco is an award-winning travel photographer. His passion for helping people transform their photography shows through in the expert advice he shares. His work has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, CNN, and as a staff writer for Digital Photography School.

35 thoughts on “Footsteps of My Father: Captivating Before/After Photos of Korea”

    1. Hey, thanks man! It really made me think about the value of my own photos, even the ones that aren’t keepers. They may not be important now, but who knows what they will mean decades down the road.

  1. Seeing these pictures again was all the more special since I’ve been posting my own pictures taken on Jeju in 1968-69. Great work, Pete.

    1. Hey Ken, your pictures are amazing. Feel free to post a link to them here. I feel like we were on similar journeys although at separate times. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I stumbled across your site when looking for scuba diving on Ulleungdo Island. I have enjoyed reading and seeing your pictures from Korea and your dads. This project is really inspiring as this is the second time I have lived in Korea and I have been to a lot of the same places not just in Jeju but Ulleungdo that you have shared pics of. You have a new subscriber!!!!!

    1. Hi Jake. I’m a diver too. Never got to dive in Ulleungdo but Jeju was excellent. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you signed up to the newsletter. Welcome to the community!

  3. HI! pete

    first of all, I’m sorry for my english. I’m not good at english.
    But I have to leave my feeling because I am deeply impressed.

    I come across your article of split toning. In article, I am surprised to see the picture of the street of the korea because I’m Korean. It leads me to your website and I found this article.
    I fascinated by your father , your work and your photos.
    I’m your new subscriber from now!
    And thanks for your free preset.

    1. Hey John, thanks for your kind words. You are from Korea? That’s great! I really enjoyed my time there. And welcome to the newsletter! Thanks for signing up.

  4. Wow, this is so cool. You must’ve spent quite a lot of time lining these up. You also just stole all of our children’s ideas for reproducing the same thing, lol. Kidding. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Haha, thanks man! Well now you have to collect the GPS coordinates of your Korea photos to help them out. 😉 Glad you enjoyed it and good to hear from you.

  5. This is a really cool project, Pete. I recognise many of the places in the photos – I spent some time on Jeju-do back in 2009. I also taught English in Korea from 2011-2004. I love how you’ve integrated your father’s journey with your own. Amazing stuff!

    1. Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment and sharing this post! That’s cool that you lived on Jeju too and taught English as well. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Keep creating!

    1. Hey, glad you enjoyed it Nathan! Whenever I see your work, I feel a strong connection with your subjects, which to me means you are really passionate about what you shoot. That kind of thing is contagious. Keep inspiring.

  6. Nicely done Pete! The amount of research time and related exploration shows a loving commitment to the project; a reflection of both your dad’s and your personal affection for Cheju-do. The work suggests the profound change that continues to take place in Korea, the often overlooked sense of modern history, and the emotional currency that is so near the surface.

    1. Thank you Stephen! It was a very moving experience for us both to say the least. When I got to Jeju, I just thought it would be fun to recreate his old photos. But as the project came together, it turned into something greater than me. It helped me realize the importance of leaving a legacy, not just for me or my family, but for a people and its culture.

  7. That was a great project, Pete, wonderful work. I really enjoyed your presentation and commentary. I am familiar with each and every place you have depicted so creatively. I first visited Jeju in 1967 while I was a student attending university in Tokyo, and then many years later my wife and I lived there from 1982 to 1986, as a professor at Cheju National University. During those years we hiked all over Halla-san and traveled just about every back road and country lane we could find on the island. Your images have brought back some very fond memories. (And we’re still in Korea, by the way, at Kyungpook National University in Daegu – I just can’t bring myself to leave this wonderful country.)

    I also really enjoyed your Mongolia article.

    1. Hey Steve, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like you have a long and deep connection with Korea. My dad also taught at CNU. He was the second foreign instructor there actually. Your adventures around the island sound like a lot fun. Keep making the most of it!

  8. I really enjoyed your photos. My grandfather’s house is in Jeju-City, near city hall. I have been always curious about the old scenes of Jeju, and thanks to your posts, I could watch Jeju’s old view. Very impressive. KAL Hotel is one of my favorite architectures. If you don’t mind, do you have other photos of KAL Hotel’s old photos? I will really appreciate it.

    1. Thanks Dennis. There may be some more photos of the KAL but I don’t know because they’re all in a box at my father’s house. There is a link in the article to more photos though.

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