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Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Asia Culture Center

Documenting Korea's Modernization

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2016-07-08

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"Documenting Korea"s Modernization" at Library Park, Asia Culture Center


The rapid growth of Korea’s economy in the 1960’s and 70’s took the world by surprise. What was once a third-world backwater had transformed itself into an industrial powerhouse within the span of a few decades, something unprecedented in modern world history. The hyper growth that occurred in Korea caused rapid change in the urban character of the country, something that a series of photographers have attempted to portray in the Photography in Asia section of the ACC Library and Archive. The Photography in Asia collection seeks to document and present unique modern histories of various Asian nations through the medium of photography, and its first exhibition tackles Korea’s rapid economic rise through the photographic medium. A wide range of photographic documentaries, covering the period of 1960 until the modern day in various places around Korea, seek to accurately portray just how far Korea has come and how much it has changed through subjects ranging from old ancestral rites ceremonies in the countryside to the massive shipyards of Ulsan today.

Photo 2016 ACC Archive and Research Team



Photo 2016 ACC Archive and Research Team



Photo 2016 ACC Archive and Research Team



Photo 2016 ACC Archive and Research Team



Photo 2016 Amos Farooqi



One photograph that stood out to me was “Alleys” by Kim Ki-Chan. The photo perhaps best sums up the rapid transformation of Korea. In this photo, there is a boy taking a mid-day nap on the roof of a shanty house sometime around 1973. In the background is Jongro, downtown Seoul. It looks nowhere near what it does now, but you can see modern buildings being put up in the background, a stark contrast to the poverty that still seemed to affect its surrounding communities, an image of what Korea was attempting to eradicate through rapid economic growth and modernization. It’s a vivid reminder of the old Korea that was racked by poverty, and a good portrayal of the process of Korea’s modernization efforts at the time.

 

Another photograph that stood out to me was Jo Choonman’s photograph of Hyundai’s Ulsan shipyard, taken just two years ago but that provides a fuller narrative of how far Korea has truly come. The ship being constructed is massive, and the facilities used to help build the ship are enormous. Lights illuminate the construction site, giving the shipyard and the ship under construction a soft colorful glow that easily attracts the eye. No one in the 1960’s, when the Korean government first laid out its economic plans, could have ever imagined the heights Korea’s economy and industry have reached, and this photo exudes the true magnitude of how far Korea has come since then through the massive size and ultra-modernism of its subject matter.

 

Lee Jong Lok’s “Glocal Site” series documents various modern takes on the hanok style in a number of rural locations dotted across North Jeolla Province. The hanok is a classic style of Korean houses that has enjoyed a sort of renaissance in recent years, with architects putting their own spin on it. Its roof is perhaps the most distinct characteristic, and it has been put on various types of houses and buildings. In the photos we see a shipping container with a hanok style roof, as well as a tin hanok style roof over a basic looking home. This series of photographs best portrays how the traditional art forms of Korea have manifested themselves into our everyday lives, most notably architecture, showing that Korea’s hyper economic growth did not kill off its traditional culture and arts.


Photo 2016 Amos Farooqi



This series of photographs on Korea’s modernization will be the first of many photographic documentations of various Asian nations’ modern history at the ACC Archive and Research section. This exhibit portrayed Korea’s modernization efforts, effectively putting an image and face on the entire process in a way that textbooks cannot. It will be interesting to see future exhibitions and how they portray the histories of other nations in the region. If the standard set by this exhibit continues to be upheld, I’m sure viewers will gain even more knowledge of Asia’s modern history and development. 




- Written by. Amos Farooqi, 9th ACC Reporters Corps

- Designed by. JeongHoeun, 9th ACC Reporters Corps



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