Bruce Cumings: Korea: As Seen by Magnum Photographers.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438|
|Issue:||Date: Annual, 2009 Source Volume: 70|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Korea: As Seen by Magnum Photographers (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Cumings, Bruce|
Bruce Cumings: Korea: As Seen by Magnum Photographers. New York and
London: W. W. Norton, 2008. 304 pp. ISBN: 9780393067743.
On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the newspaper Han Kyoreh (One People), it joined hands with Magnum Photos (founded in 1947) to produce Korea: As Seen by Magnum Photographers. The project involved twenty people--almost half of the Magnum members--who travelled all around South Korea. The book contains 242 photos of "...mountains, rivers, oceans, islands, cities, villages, religions, festivals, rites of passage, traditions, food, tourist sports, film and industry..."
The American scholar Bruce Cumings presents in the introduction a brief review of Korean history up until today. Royal dynasties, religions, the implications of Korea's geopolitical position, the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), the 1945 national division by the United States Defence Department, the Korean War (1950-1953) and post-war economic and political development in South Korea with a few references to inter-Korean relations are all included, as is a brief chronology. Cumings refers to the notion that Korea during the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) was "more Confucian than China." While acknowledging post-war economic progress and democratization, he points out the serious problem that "the country's economic system remains considerably more developed and sophisticated than its political system." Unfortunately, two unnecessary factual errors appear: Park Chung Hee led the military coup that took place in May 1961 and not, as recorded, in May 1960. Also, Syngman Rhee did not continue "...his dictatorial rule until 1961,..." but until 1960. To me, it is new information that South Korea has the world's tenth largest economy--the latest position I have seen is number thirteen--but the position tends to be slightly different in different works.
The photos are wonderful and give a broad picture of main characteristics of South Korea. The location is recorded under each photo and after all the full-page size photos useful explanations of each photo that is shown in miniature above are recorded. The book also contains maps. Since the photographers aimed at "...documenting its seasons and what Korea has become", the photos to a large extent show images of modern life from the two largest cities Seoul and
Pusan but also from other cities and towns. Although Seoul as capital is very important in most respects, there are too many photos from Seoul, particularly of people's doings, such as shopping and using cell phones, that are not at all unique for Korea. There are too few photos from islands, except a few from Cheju Island and one each from Tokdo in the East Sea and Wando and Pogildo in the South Sea. If included, it would have enhanced knowledge of the beautiful nature that is largely unknown outside South Korea. A few photos from the demilitarized zone remind the reader of tensions between the two Koreas that often tend to dominate media reports from Korea. It is particularly discouraging to see barbed wire in front of a beautiful beach.
More photos of islands and a few from the three villages--Hahoe village outside Andong, Yangdong village outside Kyongju and Songup village on Cheju Island-where traditional life is maintained with government support would have enhanced understanding of what the country has to offer for visitors. It is surprising that there are no photos from Korean Folk Village in Suwon south of Seoul, since it is a place Koreans often recommend for foreign visitors. On the other hand, as a place established to gather traditional culture from the whole country for visitors it is less representative than the places depicted where remnants of old Korea can be seen. In fact, photos from the old royal capital Kyongju and other historic places, as well as from the marvellous Mt. Sorak, help to get a more complete view of Korea. Although the selection of photos might have been made somewhat differently, the book is useful for visitors to South Korea and is recommended reading for anyone interested in Korea.
Stockholm University, Department of Oriental Languages
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