The Book Society
Located on Jahamun-ro 10-gil, near the Gyeongbokgung metro station, The Book Society is one of my favorite bookshops in Seoul. I first discovered the shop in 2010 when it was located around the corner from the Sangsu metro station not far from my mother-in-law’s then new apartment. The shop is run by Mediabus, a small publishing house that publishes books & zines while also producing exhibits, events and workshops. Mediabus also collaborates with other publishers, institutions and companies. The vibe of the shop is decidedly DIY with little concern for decor or flash. The selection is a good mix of books, zines, magazines and other printed matter published in Korea and internationally. Photography is a small portion of the selection though there are many interesting titles not available in mainstream bookshops like Kyobo.
Your Mind used to be a hard to find gem of a bookshop– the front door is at the back of the building and up five flights of stairs. Several years ago it relocated from Hongdae to new digs in Yeonhui-dong (Seodaemun-gu, Yeonhui-ro 11ra-gil, 10-6 은/는 2층). The new shop may not have the wonderful view looking north of the previous location, but it remains an inviting space. The selection here is much like that at The Book Society, though there were more books from small indy publishers (which is saying something when we’re talking about photo books), self-published books and zines–this is a great shop for zines. There is also a large selection of illustration, fashion, poetry and handmade publications and objects.
Listen to the City / Sendosi
Musanja Books opened in December 2016. I’ve not been, yet, but will definitely make time to check it out on my next trip. Based on the books Listen to the City publishes, the locus is almost certainly politics and visual culture. The shop is open only on Mondays from 2:00pm to 9:00pm and is located at Supyodong 11-2 Jung-gu, on the 4th floor; nearest subway is Euljiro 3-ga.
The Books @ Art Sonje Center
Art Sonje Center is a private museum in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood near Insadong, the Korean Folk Art Museum and Anguk Station. In the museum’s lounge (really the lobby space) there is a book/art shop. The scope of the shop has been reduced since my last visit, but there is still a substantial volume of paper here. The small selection of photography books is of uniformly high quality.
www.pbooks.co.kr (This is the link on the shop’s marquee but it seems to be dead.)
Walking into Photo Box feels a lot like walking into K&M Camera in NYC circa 1999. I mean that as a compliment. It’s full of cool stuff, but nothing is quite organized. It’s a little dingy. It lacks polish. And it feels like home. The shelves heavily feature western photographers, though there is a good selection of Korean photographers as well. The selection isn’t quite as hip as The Book Society or Your-Mind, but there’s a good chance you’ll find something amazing. Located just down Toegye-ro from exit 5 of Chungmuro station towards Samil-daero, it isn’t the easiest place to find despite its being on a main road. Plan on finding something you didn’t expect; don’t expect to find something specific. As a bonus, if you’re in the market for a used camera, there are numerous used camera shops a couple of blocks away. And puppies. And motorcycles. It’s a good neighborhood.
The Museum of Photography, Seoul
The Museum of Photography, Seoul is the first private photography museum in Korea. Its primary function is that of exhibition space and education center. Beside its reception desk, it has a bookshelf with a small selection of books available. Most of these are catalogues that accompany exhibits, but there are a few additional titles as well. The books are a nice bonus when you come to see the exhibition, which ought to be your main reason for visiting.
Iann Books is the retail space for the publisher located at 50-7 Hyoja-dong, Jongno-gu.
Located at 5 Hyoja-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu, near the Gyeongbokgung metro station, Irasun is a small shop that carries mostly international publications but has a densely packed section of Korean photography publications. It’s around the corner from The Book Society and nearby to Project Space Sarubia and Iann Books.
Same Dust opened in 2021 (I’ve not been, yet; F the pandemic; note to self: update this after visiting at end of pandemic…). Founded by Alan Eglinton and Eunji Park, Same Dust is a book store and project space that also publishes work by international artists.
Suggested by a reader in 2019, this is another bookstore near Iann Books.
Kukje isn’t a book store, exactly. Rather, it is an art gallery that self publishes lavish catalogues for its exhibitions. Generally these publications fall outside of the scope of my collecting interests. However, for those looking for authoritative tomes on blue chip artists, Kukje’s publications are a wonderful resource. Kukje is in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood near the Korean Folk Museum and Gyeongbukgung.
A chain of book stores, I frequent the Kyobo Books located off of the Gwanghwamun metro station. This is a huge general interest bookstore that has a fair selection of photography books from mainstream publishers that tend towards old masters, vanity publications and coffee table books with a few standouts in the mix. I often skip the store on visits where time is tight. The vibe is very much like Barnes and Noble.
The Pillars at Ilmin Museum
In 2013, the Ilmin Museum converted two pillars in its first floor lobby into a bookshop. The shop offers publications from three publishers: Hyunsil Books, Workroom Press, and The Book Society across topics germane to the museums mission of helping visitors to understand visual culture and access knowledge.
Design Square at the KT&G Sangsang Madang Building
On the first floor of the KT&G SangsangMadang Multi-cultural Center is the Design Square, which is a shop for all things design and art. The bulk of the store is design objects. There is a selection of books and zines available, though this seems to be a lower priority lately. It isn’t the best book store, but if you’re in Hongdae anyway it is worth stopping in just in case something cool has come in. It is also worth checking out the gallery on the 2nd and 3rd floors and the cinema in the basement.
Post Poetics is a small shop located in the Itaewan neighborhood of Seoul. As might be surmised from its location in Itaewan, the books this shop sells are primarily from international artists and publishers. They have a fantastic selection of Japanese and European books. The core focus of the shop is more on art and design rather than photography. It is worth the flight of stairs you must climb to get to this shop, especially if one is looking for international photography books.
Cafe Luca (BUSAN)
Cafe Luca is a coffee shop in Busan’s Haeundae neighborhood (across from the Haeundae District Office) with a photography theme. They have over 1000 photo books that can be browsed, host photo exhibits and offer seminars and activities for members. Worth a visit.
As I come across other worthwhile book stores that have significant photography sections I will update this page. There are other wonderful general interest bookstores as well as those that cater to specific niche interests with some overlap with photography. I’ve mostly left these bookstores off the list without good reason; I will likely add them eventually. I’ve also left off several shops I know of outside of Seoul but that I’ve not visited personally. I will add them, also, as I have the opportunity to visit them myself.
If any readers have suggestions, please note them in the comments section. If any book shops would like to be included on the list, please shoot me an e-mail with your details and I’ll drop by on my next visit and do a write up.