Korean Straight Lines: Genesis of a Book Cover

by NB Armstrong, 22/11/2012


In one episode of The Office, David Brent is interviewing two candidates for the post of his assistant. He polaroids them both. The first, a young woman, who has already got the job because she is a young woman, is asked to pose as the camera leers in. While still addressing the young woman, Brent shows the camera in the direction of the bespectacled male candidate and clicks. Korea can be like the first in terms of subject matter, but needs only the second in terms of photographic technique. It’s that photogenic. So the results of photography in South Korea can be subdivided into two simple categories: good and very good.

I’ve seen foreigners walking around Nampodong market in Busan or Tapgol Park near Insadong or even just sitting on the bus poised to take a photograph and thought, yeah, that’s what I should be doing more often. They have or don’t have very decent cameras but always appear to be taking their time and I’m guessing they know what they’re doing and that the results will be good. I’m not capable of very good, or only very rarely and if a friend points out what the nodules around the shoot button mean. I’m like everyone else, capable of the merely good, by which I mean presentable to friends and relatives who although they can point out Korea on a map could barely pick out its defining visual characteristics if asked to choose between it and a recently developed area of Ulanbatoor. On a blue sky day in Korea you’d have to be pointing down a manhole in the shade not to take a good photo.

When I was looking for a cover for Korean Straight Lines I paged through scores of images on flickr. I started making a collage of the visually striking and typically Korean: an overhead shot of four beautifully presented sidedishes, a teenage lad pulling a gymnastic taekwondo stance, one green corner of a forested temple roof, Myeongdong packed with attractive locals on a Saturday afternoon, a 37 year old man letting a heavy door fall back on the face of an eighty five year old who is not a blood relative (kidding). Flickr was overwhelming, and made the collage idea seem an endless project of fidgety labor. And anyway, why have twelve images when one will do?

Korea blogs are an even better source of photographs. Here are the results of those who I’ve seen in the market and in the park and they are top top notch. I made favorites of my favorites and promised myself to contact the photographers and talk about the possibility of using one. I counted my favorites. It was in three figures. I whittled it down, and this took all week, to about sixty. That’s a lot of emails. By now the deadline for a self published book -which I know doesn’t exist but still- was fast approaching.

Hanguel Day rolled around on October 9th. Through the window of a taxi I counted the flags hanging off the telegraph poles, and what happened next will surely displace Archimedes from the historical pantheon. Korean Straight Lines is about a few minor incidents that occurred in Korea = Flag. There is stuff about culture and language = Hanguel Day. And hey that new building, the one which includes a lot of straight lines, is going to host a Starbucks = Modern Korea.

So I borrowed a camera and took the image above on the morning of October 9th, 2012. Flag/Blue Sky/New Building will just have to serve as broadly representative of this ingeniously mutative country. I added the title and author's name when I got home, uploaded it to the Kindle Direct Publishing site, and published the book at lunchtime. I’m sure that this is not the first time a cover has been photographed, “designed”, and produced on the same day as book publication in the history of book publishing. But for the record my record is one hour ten minutes. The book took a while longer and I hope you enjoy it.

Note:  Amazon describes Korean Straight Lines as a non-fiction book about living in South Korea, an orbiter ride round the humor, the language, the music, the world of work, the travel systems, and, right at the end, an actual Korean orbiter. These fifteen Korean incidents -suffered heroically by the author- are appended by Korean words and expressions as well as up to date factlets about South Korean culture and society, some of which are actually useful to know. For more information and for a sneak-peak, visit Amazon.com.

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