ABSTRACT

How to represent and experience historical tragedies when most historical artifacts and evidence of the war have disappeared? This chapter deals with documentary photography that prioritizes the traces of historical tragedies, defunct military structures, and portraits of North Korean defectors who are not distinguishable from South Korean counterparts over explicitly shocking images of violence. Historically, documentary photographs taken during the Korean War in the 1950s by the members of the Department of Troop Information and Education in military (Junghunguk) and later by Myungduk Joo and Yongtae Kim dealing with interracial children or American occupational soldiers during the 1960s and 1980s reflect anti-communist, xenophobic, and anti-American social milieu attitudes during and after the Korean War. In contrast, Heungsoon Im, Onejoon Che, and Suyeon Yun, three documentary photographers and filmmakers who could be categorized as postmemory generation artists, are preoccupied with the remnants of the Korean War after the years of neglect and omission, largely under the military dictatorship in the height of the Cold War. Using David Campany’s definition of “late photography,” this chapter concentrates on three South Korean documentary photographers exploring not only the repressed histories of civilian massacre and violence, but also the legacy of the Cold War that has been undermined and obliterated in shifting cultural context of global tourism, urban development, and the policy toward North Korean defectors in South Korea for the last two decades. Moreover, this chapter sheds light upon the creative and critical potentials of the “muted” late photography, which invite the audience of the postmemory generation in South Korea to actively participate in the process of deciphering the underlying economic and political circumstances of postwar South Korean society.