It was October, 1990 when I was on a street in central Seoul for the first times as a news photographer. My first job: to cover an anti-government demonstration by students and workers. Protected by a helmet and gas mask, I shot pictures with a Nikon FM2 without the help of a motor drive. It was a battle. The protesters, hundreds of them, had steel bars, stones and petrol bombs. They were forced back by riot police, armed with tear gas, heavy sticks and hard-edged shields.
It was in those last days of the country’s period of autocratic rule, riots and mayhem had become almost daily routine. Sometimes, the photographers, including me, were victims of attack from both sides
By 1997, news photography had become my full-time job. By then too, South Korea had a democratic government in power and major protests were less common. When they did happen, the tear gas may have gone but the tactics were tough and people got hurt. But now there was public opinion to worry about. There was an unwritten rule that members of the media should not be attacked.
This year, things changed again.
In May, I was covering a rally against the government of President Lee Myung-bak, an ex-businessman who had taken office in February 2008, promising pro-business reforms to set the economy on a new path of growth.
Thousands of people rallied in the capital’s center against his policies and to mark the mass protests a year earlier against his government’s decision to allow imports of U.S. beef.