A Photo series documented from August to December 2019 while travelling through South Korea or officially known as the Republic of Korea. ‘Why South Korea?’ Family, friends, and colleagues asked me, weeks before I was due to depart. I have always been drawn to Asia, as I grew up watching Anime and reading Manga and especially after spending a couple weeks in Japan a few years ago, South Korea was an easy choice.
It was only when I arrived, I realised that their were very few western tourists. The only reasons locals could assume I would be visiting, was to study, teach or be in the Army.
South Korea quickly became the perfect place in which to document my time here. But it also came with its challenges.
In truth I didn’t have a particular theme that I wanted to tackle before travelling to Korea. It was only taking my camera out with me, every day, that I started to absorb and capture the life around me, which drew me to question and delve deeper into what I was seeing. One of those things, was a clear sign of an ageing population and elderly poverty.
South Korea is a newly developed country in economic terms. Due to rapid industrialisation over the last three generations the country has evolved like few have. South Korea has the fourth largest economy in Asia after China, Japan and India. With a rapidly ageing population, low birth rates and young people who are increasingly shunning marriage, South Korea is in a population conundrum. This was very visible during my time in the Country.
The poverty amongst the elderly in South Korea is a direct consequence of the countries rapid development, and the country is struggling with how to solve it. Predominately elderly South Koreans collect recyclable materials from the streets such as cardboard, plastics and polystyrene, in DIY wheelbarrows, trollies and motorcycles, to make their trips to the recycling centres. Before coming to South Korea, I had never seen locals collecting rubbish, outside of developing countries and certainly not amongst the elderly.
One of the reasons that elderly people are collecting waste and selling food on the streets is because the South Korean government has failed to create and finance an adequate pension system for most of its elderly population.
The creation of an adequate pension system has been challenging because this generation grew up before pension contributions or salaries or modern careers existed. They never planned for their retirement because when they were young the concept simply did not exist.
South Korea, a country that has developed in a single lifespan, the elderly are the mirrors that reflect this hyper development.
They straddle two entirely different worlds.