As a photographer, I get asked all the time about Chungmuro, the traditional photo center of Korea. I sometimes give walking tours of the area as part of my photo classes, but I still haven’t gotten to do that as much as I’d like. So I’ve decided to give you all a virtual version, a map of the places I most highly recommend, which are pretty much the best 0f what Korea has to offer in terms of equipment, as well as specialized black-and-white, slide, scanning, and printing services.
Here’s how it works. The numbered red dots mark the specific landmarks referred to on the list below. The faint numbers are just block markers to use as reference, especially so one can refer to different parts of the streets and other specific places that weren’t given a red dot by me. So you can add your own favorite spots to the list! Click on the map to expand it to full size, then refer to the stuff below. Print it, save it in your iPod, whatever floats your boat.
The numbers below correspond to the red circles above. Note that the gray block number 8 is where the massive 국동 (Geuk-dong) Building is, and you can always use it as a reference point. I would start this by coming out of Exit #5 at Chungmuro Station. Note that if you walk straight from red circle 8 and cross the street, you’ll be in Myeongdong and can take the subway from there.
1) Il Chul Photo Technic. This small little store is full of decades of photo knowledge, with a staff that knows what it’s doing, especially in the couple ajussis who have been there for many years. I used to buy their bulk-rolled TMAX film, which they would roll into recycled 35mm cartridges and sell for 2500 won. They’ve got photo gadgets galore, or they know how to solve your problem. They also have a HUGE photo bag store hidden away on the second floor — please don’t forget to see this room, which is 4 times as big as the smaller, ground-level store. If you have trouble finding them, you can call them at 02-2277-4666. Here’s a picture of the store and its bright orange storefront.
2) The FOMEX outlet. This store and brand has great studio and other flash accessories for a fraction of the price you’d pay back in the West. For those of you who never saw yourself with studio equipment, you should open your mind and check out the deals. Get your first complete set of 2 lights, 2 softboxes, 2 stands, trigger and receiver unit for just a few hundred bucks. Still think studio’s too expensive? Call ’em up at 02-2279-9800. Here’s a picture of the store.
3) Profoto set store. Now, THIS is why we made a map, because this store’s damn hard to find without assistance. But they are the outlet for (very expensive) Profoto gear and set equipment, but also colored gels. And for those of you who keep asking about them, they sell the flash head-sized little gel packs for 15,000 won. You wondered where they sold those things? There. You’re welcome. Call them at 02-2267-6868. Oh, and you’ll definitely need the picture to find this store. Once in position on the map, you see the Profoto store in the pic, stuck between two small printing houses. The metal shutter seems like it’s always halfway down, and the place seems to open late and close early. Not surprisingly, they don’t have a web site.
4) Photopia. Quite simply, the most famous processing house in Korea. If you have any film or transparency needs, they got the answer. Black-and-white negative processing in 2 hours, push or pull, whatever you want. Try THAT in the US these days. Scan your film, transfer slides to a disk, blow up medium-format to gargantuan sizes, let ’em have it. They can handle it. They also framing now, so they’re more of a one-stop shot. This is their new location, for those of you who knew the old one. This is one of two places I use to scan film and make prints. And the workers all know what they’re doing — most of them come out of photography majors in college. Try to ask a guy from Ritz Photo to develop your black-and-white TMax film with a 1-stop push, then do a drum scan at a megabyte size you specify. Then look at the price of a 16×20 print. You can’t beat this place with two sticks. Call them at 02-2274-0554. And yes, they do many overseas orders and ship. Their picture I took along with a new store right next to them called SaekiP&C — another store that is well worth a visit, because they have 3 floors of highly specialized equipment.
5) Wolpo (World Photo). This isn’t a high-end place, but a high-quality consumer-end place that might be more comfortable to the casual photographer. They do negative developing and basic scanning, and seem to have entered the framing game as well. I used them to do quick-and-easy stuff (20-minute turnaround on negative developing, for example, when the big houses don’t have their color negative machine running, since that’s not their main business), and they may be the people to talk to if you want the photo store sprucing up your pics according to general consumer taste. I didn’t get their card, but the number is 02-2273-5301~2 and their picture is here. They are RIGHT in the middle behind the gargantuan 극동빌딩(Geukdong Building), which is a landmark anyone in the area knows.
6) Photoland. This is the other top photofinishing house in the area, and they know what the hell they’re doing. I think they specialize more in color than Photopia, but what difference does that make these days? Whatever their roots, both places specialize in high-end scanning and printing. An example? 6,500 won for an 11×17. 34,000 won for a 20×30. For those that know, that’s crazy. And yes, they also do many, many overseas orders. You can upload to their site, they send you the prints. Awesome. Their number is 02-2273-9321~4 and their picture is here.
7) 한민아트 (Hanmin Art). This is a framing store that simply rocks. They do great custom jobs, can handle a tight turnaround, and the prices are cheap — basic black frame for an 11×17 custom matted print? About 20,000 won. I used these guys along with Photoland (notice they’re nearly next door to each other) by having the guy pick up my print (they paid for it), then framing it for me, so I had to make one less silly stop, just to walk the prints over, then wait another day. These guys are awesome and part of the reason Korea’s service rocks, even when it comes to highly specialized work. Call them up at 02-2271-3922 and take a look at their store here.
8) Photobox. The best photo and design bookstore I’ve been in, even comparing to the States. If there’s a major work out, they have it. And they have a second floor filled with design works. If you’re a photographer, you’ll spend hours there and a lot of money. They’ve got everything. Sorry, I didn’t pick up their number or their picture, but they are quite easy to find from the map, which says “Bresson” for the “Cartier-Bresson” gallery. Photobox is right next door.
GRAY BLOCK NUMBERS
The Main Strip. The blocks and the streets in and surrounding blocks 4, 5, 6, and 7 is where the majority of the good stuff is at. Look around these streets and you’ll find all kinds of specialty stores, with many used equipment shops and other photo stores. You still get a few good shops on the street between upper 11 and lower 10, as right in the middle of that you get two shops together — Daejin World and Photobay — that I forgot to put down as a stop on the map, but took a picture of nevertheless. It’s right in the middle of that street, around where the “라이온스 스포트센터” is. Here’s the picture.
The Food Strip. See the intersection at red point 3? Where the street diverges diagonally to the right, then off the map? That street goes down to the end of Chungmuro and is ALL food. It’s mostly manly food, such as 부대찌개, 닭한마리, and 고등어구이 places — which are quite good. There’s also some good places on the street that goes from red points 1 to 5, behind the 극동 building. Tasty stuff.
Bathroom. Especially in older neighborhoods, and when you’re walking around for hours, you need to go. But this neighborhood is iffy, and still has a lot of squat toilet action, if you know what I mean. Block 8, inside the massive Geuk-dong Building, is where you have some great toilets. Don’t think that’s important? Wander around Chungmuro for a few hours and have to do “the big one,” as they say in Korean. You will be appreciating that building, baby.
If you have your own favorite places, please use the gray block numbers to indicate where your places are, and add them in the comments!
And let me plug my photo class — ongoing, every month. Get more information here, on my site. There’s always an ongoing session.
And good hunting!