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No End to the Image War: Photography and the Contentious Memories of the Korean War

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 18, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 337-370 | 10.1353/jks.2013.0015



This article examines the relationship between photographs of the Korean War and the collective memory of that experience. The Korean War was a defining event in the modern history of Korea. The war wracked the contested land and continued to cause devastating casualties during the early stages of the Cold War. Yet despite the deadly impact of the war and the presence of both Korean and foreign war correspondents during the hostilities, the Korean War is not broadly memorialized in popular iconography. World War II is remembered, in part, through photographs such as those of combatants memorialized in Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima or Robert Capa’s images of the Normandy invasion. However, it is difficult to claim that photographs that specifically symbolize military action of the Korean War are readily available in people’s memories of the war. This article examines the political and cultural implications of this seeming absence of popularized photographs depicting combatants and other violent subjects of the Korean War. The article posits that the lack of such iconic images is closely linked to the continuing unstable and conflicted nature of the South Korean people’s memories of the war. This connection between the iconography and the memories of the Korean War is also traceable through assessments of Korean War orphans and Saenghwalchuŭi Realism, the dominant photographic movement in South Korea in the two decades following the war.

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