Sunday, May 18, 2008

The story behind photos taken in Kwangju in 1980

[Update: It turns out both of these (sets of) photos were taken by the same photographer, Na Gyeong-taek.]

Today is the 28th anniversary of the Kwangju Uprising. I'll post more later, but for now thought I'd look at two photos (or sets of photos) and the story behind them.

Last week Korea Beat posted a photo taken during the uprising, and mentioned that the person in it had been identified. This Newsis article looks at what happened. The photo is of real estate agent Choi Yang-min, now 54, who lives in Kwangju. On May 10, 1980, at the age of 26, he got married in Mokpo. On May 16 he came to Kwangju to visit his wife’s family, and met relatives there the next day. He was staying at a motel near Geumnamro, the street that would be central to the uprising. His sister, Yang-mi, then 24, was also visiting.

On May 18 he was resting in his motel when he heard slogans calling for the end of martial law being shouted outside. He saw people breaking apart sidewalk blocks and carrying them away, and thinking something must be happening, helped them. Then he went to a restaurant, which was surrounded by paratroopers. He finished his lunch quickly and went outside, where four soldiers attacked him with their clubs. He was bleeding from his head and his sister rushed out to help him and try to stop the bleeding. He was taken by the 31st Division but with the help of a friend was set free. He needed 27 stitches.

The photographer had titled the photo “newlyweds”, which was incorrect. In January Choi was at the 518 Cemetery and was surprised to see the photo, saying it stirred painful memories, but that since it started democratization it was worthwhile, though something like that should never happen again.

There were actually at least three photos of this incident. Note that his sister also has blood on her, though the article doesn't mention her having been attacked.

The Donga Ilbo looks at the photographer who took one of the photos which has come to symbolize the uprising, that of a man in his twenties being clubbed by a soldier. The photo was taken by Na Gyeong-taek, now 60, who then worked as a photojournalist for the Jeonnam Maeil. Even seeing this photo now is emotional, and he’d really like to meet the man in the photo, but has no idea if he’s alive or dead.

On May 19, 1980, Na was taking photos from the Jeonil Building on Geumnamro, and found it difficult to take photos of the gory scenes unfolding. His hands were shaking so much it was difficult to take photos. Then the man in the photo appeared with soldiers who were hitting him, though the man seemed to stand up to the soldiers. Na took the photos secretly before the man was put into a truck and taken away.

The photo couldn’t be published at the time due to censorship, so he passed on the film to a foreign journalist (he also talks about hiding it as well). The photo was published in 1987 in the book “Kwangju: Our Country’s Cross”. He had wanted to find the young man in the photo but never had any luck, though he has inquired around.

Worth noting is that the image above appears in a video taken at the time. It would seem someone else was also documenting the scene.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Matt for this wealth of information and opinion on the Gwangju Uprisings, I was in Gwangju on the 18th May this year and had my curiosity piqued so I am grateful to you for all your posts on the subject. By the way, maybe of the external links from early pieces are now dead links...just so you know. Ali