With the keen eye of a street photographer, Argus Paul Estabrook captures a world of black-and-white abstractions and kaleidoscopic views of commuters in the Seoul metro system. His subjects seem temporarily suspended in surfaces, reflections and distortions that come and go in the blink of an eye.

Artist’s Statement

Photographing the Seoul Metro is a time of reflection for me.

Although I was born in South Korea, I was raised in a rural, predominantly white area of the United States that culturally distanced me from my mother’s country. Since moving to Seoul, I’ve made a habit of haunting the metro. I can spend days jumping from line to line, taking in as much as I can. I could say it’s because I want to go somewhere new but that isn’t the full truth; I’m exactly where I want to be.

The metro is where the “real” Seoul congregates: true lives that won’t be portrayed in tourism ads or K-pop songs. Travelers on our own journeys, we pass and disappear in a blink of an eye. Here we are all away from home.

Is that where our similarities end? We may share heritage and fleeting travels, but as a foreign gyopo, I fear I won’t be able to overcome my sense of separation.

The commuters remain to me as apparitions, echoes of light and shadow on the subway walls and windows. Is it an otherness I feel inclined to understand or facets of myself? All I know is I must raise my camera — Click.

I am left amid reflections as trains of thought prepare to depart.

—Argus Paul Estabrook

Jangam to Sangbong. 장암역 > 상봉역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Gangnam-gu Office Station 1. 강남구청역 1 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Seolleung Station. 선릉역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Gangnam-gu Office Station 2. 강남구청역 2 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Express Bus Terminal Station. 고속터미널역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Jeongja Station. 정자역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Janghanpyeong Station. 장한평역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Sunae to Suwon. 수내역 > 수원역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Samseong Station. 삼성역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Bokjeong Station. 복정역 © Argus Paul Estabrook
Wangsimni to Jamsil. 왕십리역 > 잠실역 © Argus Paul Estabrook

About the Artist

Argus Paul Estabrook is a biracial Korean-American photographer working in South Korea and the USA. Frequent travel between these two countries has provided him a unique perspective of Korean identity and its relationship to both global and regional communities. Artistically, he considers himself a street photographer who sometimes takes the camera inside to tell personal stories. He is a member of Native Agency and Diversify Photo.

Estabrook’s work has been awarded by the Magnum Photography Awards, Sony World Photography Awards, LensCulture, IPA, MIFA, TIFA, as well as exhibited at the Aperture Summer Open: On Freedom. He was named the 2017 Dorothy Liskey Wampler Eminent Professor in the School of Art, Design, and Art History at James Madison University.

Discover all of the other winners of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2021.