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I was invited to shoot photos at M Garden in Jongno, Seoul,South Korea for the Rooftop Party for Foreign Entertainers. The event was put on by the Korea Observer and the Foreign Entertainers Association and supported by Seoul’s Senior Public Diplomacy Group, a part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The even was setup with a threefold objective. Of course the name makes the first apparent; to enjoy the evening partying and networking. The second was to give aspiring foreign entertainers a chance to hear the wisdom of foreign entertainers who have found a place, or lost their place in the industry. And the third was to discuss a very important issue regarding the field.

I was a little nervous about going honestly. I have nothing to do with the industry and being invited as a photographer seemed to put a lot of pressure on me, which was self imposed, in retrospect. Adding to that I had yet to venture into flash photography and so do not own a flash. I was shooting all night at low apertures and a high ISO to try to get usable images. The final kicker was never having shot event photography. I am not used to dealing with people in a photographic sense, posing them, interacting and such. Normally on the street I just snap a picture and walk on.

The venue had an upcycled theme with bike wheels decorating the handrails and plastic crates serving as tables and seats with a shipping container accent wall. There were a dozen polished come floodlights all pointing into the venue so no matter which way you shoot you have at least one blasting back into the camera unless you could get creative.

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After chatting and enjoying some acoustic music by Earl Noble and Timothy Gigsley everyone dug into the food. People continued to arrive. I was asked to stay by the door to shoot people people entering the party. there was a wall with logos on it  but without a flash it was like shooting into the sun, none of the few shots I got were even worth keeping. Luckily I knew and had another photographer also photograph them with a flash.

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After dinner, Tae-Hoon Lee of the Korea Observer and Jesse Day, an actor, Hip-Hop MC, model… hosted a spicy noodle eating contest. there were a handful of participants including Chance Dorlan of Korea FM.net and this guy who I was talking to earlier in the night. He was in the military, stationed in Korea for two years and fell in love with a Korean girl so he finished his remaining time in Korea, returned home for a week, enrolled in Korean University and came right back. He said he was doing the contest purely for the chance to win 100 bucks. You can watch this video that Jesse Day made to find out who the winner is. After, the owner of Shingildong Spicy Jampong came on stage to talk about why he decided to open a shop selling Korea’s spiciest noodles.

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The final segment of the evening was the panel discussions to talk about the entertainment industry in Korea. The first, “Maximizing Your Talents” was hosted by Jason Lee,  and the other. “Insight into the entertainment Industry”, by Susan MacDonald, Professor at Seoul Institute of Arts.

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The last of the pannel discussion hinted at the need to create a Foreign Actors Union in Korea to protect against the numerous unscrupulous agencies working in Korea who find work for non-Korean actors, models and musicians. The issue though is that they are acting mostly within the law and keeping about 90 percent of the contract fees. That means if a station was willing to hire an actor for $1,000 the agency would then find an actor, claiming the contract was for $1,000 and the actor would walk away with only $100.

People from outside of Korea are increasingly present in Korean film and television and many people who have been around are concerned about this practice. Compounding the issue I heard were many people who may be working in a sort of grey area from an immigration standpoint. They come here to teach or study, for example. they find that they are short on money or simply wish to earn more and so, naively go to these recruiters, having no idea what they should earn for such a job or thinking if they ask for more will be turned down.

Will conditions get worse before this issue gets resolved?

Oh, and I have ordered a Yongnuo flash so I am prepared for my next opportunity to practice. Looking forward to adding a new element to my photography.

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