Arrested For Street Photography In Seoul!

Seoul_Gyeongbokgung_guard

To say there isn’t any risk involved in street photography would be naive, to say the least. Still, the last thing I expected to happen on my trip was to be arrested for taking a photo!


Seoul’s a fantastic place for photography. It offers a mix of modern and classic environments to shoot, as well as, a range of different individuals to capture images of. However, with a language barrier and huge culture difference, misunderstandings are bound to occur. So here is the story of what happened when I was arrested for street photography in Seoul.

How This All Started

Being one of the most lively hubs in Seoul, Gangnam was a clear choice for some Friday night street shots. And everything started out well, Gangnam Ro was lively with its hustle and bustle and lit up with all of its artificial light, However, about halfway down the street a guy who was with two women comes up to me demanding to see the images on my camera. Obviously, I obliged as any decent street photographer would. The next thing I know the police arrive.

At this point, I think I need to make it very clear that I was told this by the police.

“Taking pictures of others on the street is not illegal. But the accusation against you is that they believe you took an ‘indecent’ photo.”

I didn’t and I was proven innocent not only after digital forensics were carried out, but also by a district prosecutor (He basically said there was no crime committed and threw the case out.)

Now, I’ve never had an issue involving the police in my life, let alone since I picked up a camera! To cut this down a bit the police were very kind and approachable, they even apologised to me about this at one point. They kept my camera and the next thing I know I’m taken to another station to be interviewed and then let go with my passport, phone and medication in hand. The only catch was I couldn’t leave the country.

The Following Weeks…

So there I am, stuck in Korea with no camera or idea of what’s going on. So my first stop was to talk to the embassy. Now, this was 100% the best choice I made in this whole debacle. Not only did the representative go above and beyond what she had to do, but she also pushed for answers.

We tried getting answers ourselves. We were put in a position where we felt like we were being laughed at and hands were slammed onto tables when we made a simple statement.

It took 4 weeks, a Bursor from Oxford Uni, local MP, the UK foreign office and the embassy before we heard anything. It was good news! Digital forensics found nothing after recovering several thousand files off of the SD card. And the investigation could not continue due to the accusing party being unreachable (I’ll get onto that later.)

The Outcome

Another 4 days later we get confirmation from the Embassy that the case has been thrown out by the prosecutor. I had my camera back and all of the paperwork needed to leave. I was going to leave it at that, but I had one question left, where did the accusers go? Full honesty, we don’t know… But what we do know is that Slander is taken very seriously in Korea. To the point where a prison sentence and a hefty fine can be the outcome. And seen as near enough every party involved felt I didn’t commit a crime, well, we put two and two together.

Either way, I’m home now and I’m putting together my first zine with the images from Korea. Heres a preview.

Long Walk Into the Dark: A preview shot from the upcoming Seoul Zine

So there’s the story of me getting arrested for street photography in Seoul. Well, the shortened version at least. There is more to the story involving the translator etc. But I’ll update this post at some point to include more details (or make a video whichever is easier!)

And I just want to stress, this isn’t to put you off of visiting South Korea. Apart from a few individuals its an amazing and welcoming country. And the images you can capture there are truly in a unique environment. But, like anywhere I guess, go careful when shooting people (especially on a Friday night,) they can turn on you at any moment.

A little bonus – A great video on shooting in Gangnam from the_real_Sir_Robin. Well worth a watch.

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