Korean Vending Machines

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow photographer Colin Corneau suggested a topic to shoot as I was seeking out suggestions on what to photograph. I had recently picked up a roll of fotocola 400 35 mm film and Colin suggested “vending machines” as the topic given the name of the film.

With that in mind, I set out to find some of the older more “well loved” machines in my area. Keep in mind that I live in Korea and NOT Japan, so that means that vending machines are a little harder to find here. That being said, this was a great way to flex my creative skills and get in some walking too!

What I liked about this project were the limitations. I didn’t use my car, although I thought about driving out to Gyeongju and shooting Filnmlog’s vending machine. However, I knew that there had to be enough vending machines around my area to fill a roll of film. I also tried to only shoot vending machines that were older and keep everything on one roll of film.

By doing this and setting these limitations meant that I was not just spraying and praying. I set out each day with the intention of finding these icons of the 80’s and 90’s in Korea. It was a challenge in many cases as Korea is quite modern and the era of the vending machine is fading faster that I imagined.

Learning How To See

Another challenge was just how to photograph the machines once I found them. Shooting them straight on is an obvious but uninteresting angle in my opinion. So I had to step back and really figure out what the whole scene was saying. I know that sounds a little too “woo-woo” for most but it is true. Some of the machines had some character and that needed to come through on film. Other times it wasn’t just the machine but the location that was interesting.

After a few attempts, I managed to get an idea of how I wanted this little project to look. I also think that all the walking helped flush out some better ideas. The time walking from my apartment to “old downtown” in Ulsan, gave me time to figure out the limitations of what I can do with this film and camera combination as well as how I want to show these machines.

Learning From The Project

I must admit that I didn’t really think that I would learn anything from something so trivial as this. However, what I learned is that by choosing a subject and then limiting yourself by certain constraints, you can really amp up your creativity. This would have been a lot easier to do with my Canon EOS R and cherry picking the easiest vending machines that I could find.

This project really taught me to understand the subject a bit more. Yes, I am still talking about broken vending machines but you get the idea. The research and planning for subjects and ideas will help you in the long run.


The bottom line here is that this was not a huge thing. It was a fun experiment that I did with a cheap roll of film. However, I learned a lot and forced myself to find enough unique machines to complete the roll. In the future, I will try and shoot 1 subject per frame and see how that goes.

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