Photo studio takes visitors back in time

Sajin Mooee photo studio is located in Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul. / Courtesy of Sajin Mooee

By Baek Byung-yeul

Ever since Korea’s first modern photo studio Cheoyeondang opened in downtown Seoul in 1907, visiting photo studios has long been taken for granted.

On the occasion of special commemorative events, Koreans visited photo studios to capture their special times in photographs. Due to the soaring popularity of the film camera, photo studios enjoyed their heyday in the 1990s. According to data by Statistics Korea, there were nearly 8,000 photo studios then.

With more people living the digital photography lifestyle in the 21st century, however, the film camera has been a casualty of the digital revolution, with only 960 photo studios remaining as of 2013. The number of people engaged in the photography business was also drastically reduced from more than 13,000 in 1995 to less than 2,200 in 2013.

Though digital media portends almost ended the age of the film camera, some film studios are still striving.

Sajin Mooee photo studio located in Bukchon Hanok Village in central Seoul is one of them.

With a relatively affordable price (30,000 won per person), the photo studio is a popular destination for both tourists and photography lovers.

Coming in off the street, it is no different from others, but this studio has become increasingly popular since its opening four years ago.

“When people visit the photo studio, they are fully ready to cherish their happy times together. We are just offering happiness to them,” the photo studio’s owner Choi Hong-jun simplly said when asked about his studio’s popularity.

To take a photograph at Sajin Mooee, a reservation is a must. After taking 50 or more shots, people can choose three of them.

Choi added the location of the studio is another reason for its popularity.

“I think the reason why our photo studio has become a popular place for visitors is it is located in Bukchon,” he said.

Bukchon, whose name literally translates to “north village,” is located between Changdeok and Gyeongbok palaces. In the past, the village was the residential quarter for “yangban” or high-ranking officials, but now it has become a popular tourist destination providing a glimpse of days past. The alleys of the village still follow a street grid hundreds of years old and art studios are found alongside various kinds of Korean restaurants.

“Tourists who rent hanbok or traditional Korean clothing at the village also visit our studio,” Choi said.

Spotlight photo studio in Eunhaeng-dong, Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, is another hot place for photo lovers.

Decorated with vintage and antique decor, the studio feels foreign in downtown Daejeon. Explaining it receives so many visitors, the owner said his photo studio can satisfy them. “People visiting Spotlight expect to shoot a special moment. Our studio provides different kinds of costumes and backgrounds,” the owner said.

“In the past, people had to visit photo studios to print photos, but now it is unnecessary. With the development of digital technology, many photo studios had to close down, and we cannot stop people taking photos with their devices. Instead we try our best to record customers’ happy moments,” the owner said.

For people who want something more special, visiting photo studios that only print out black-and-white photographs is also recommendable.

Near Sajin Mooee in Bukchon, Mulnamoo photo studio lets customers take black-and-white photos on discontinued Polaroid cameras.

A customer to the photo studio said she decided to take shots here even though she cannot make herself appear thinner using photo-editing software.

“I found this studio while I was touring the village before and came again with my family to take black-and-white photos,” a customer to the studio said. “Since I have never taken black and white photographs, it triggers a kind of an old feeling in me.”

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