Photographers' Blog

Mementos of Korea’s divided families

Last month North and South Korea allowed a group of families divided by the Korean War to come together for a brief reunion. Separated on either side of the border between North and South, it was the first time they had seen each other in more than six decades.

Those who took part in the reunion knew that they were luckier than many others, who didn’t get to see their loved ones across the border at all. But they still had to go through the pain of parting all over again – more than likely forever – after their brief, tearful meeting.    

I wasn’t allowed to cover the families at the scene of the reunion. But the event made me wonder what it was like for those who returned to a normal life in South Korea after emotional gatherings with their long-lost parents, kids, and siblings from the North.

Some of the families who took part even thought their relatives had died in the 1950-53 war until they got their invitation to join the reunion. What did the reunited families talk about? Did they recognize each other with grey hair and wrinkles? What were the last words they said to each other before their goodbyes?

Wanting to know the answers to these questions, I obtained a list of participants in the latest reunions and began calling dozens of them. It was harder than I had imagined to arrange the interviews. I thought at first the families would be happy to talk in front of the camera. But after fulfilling a life-long dream of seeing their relatives in the North again, I found that many of these elderly Koreans appeared exhausted, and their emotions were spent.

The truce village of Panmunjom

By Lee Jae-won

South Korea is surrounded by the sea on all sides but one. The country is virtually an island as it is bordered to the north by reclusive North Korea.

There is only one place, called a truce village, where South Koreans and visitors can see the border and soldiers from the secretive state.

Panmunjom, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, is considered one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. It is located in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the 4-km (2.5 mile) wide buffer that runs along the heavily armed military border.

Seven months atop a crane

With almost seven months atop a crane, a 51-year old woman trade unionist is staging a solo protest to end layoffs at a shipyard in South Korea.

Kim Jin-Suk, 51, climbed the 35-meter tall crane in the Yeongdo shipyard of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) in Busan, the hub of South Korea’s shipbuilding industry on January 6 this year and has been there ever since to protest against what she says are “mass layoffs” at the country’s former biggest shipbuilder.

Her sit-in protest is helping to revive trade unionism in a country that was once a byword for violent clashes between workers and police, but which under conservative President Lee Myung-bak has seen the unions adopt a back seat.

Luxury dog care open for business

Affluent South Koreans have just about every fashion accessory imaginable from designer clothes to handbags and the latest trend in Asia’s fourth biggest economy is small dogs.

Just like their well-groomed owners in the ritzy suburbs of the capital Seoul, pets are now big business for groomers, healthcare businesses and even mood music, helping to create a whole new service industry.

“IRION” is a luxury pet care centre in the Gangnam district in Seoul that recently opened to cater to the needs of affluent urban dwellers who have embraced small dogs as their latest fashion accessory.

Outspoken South Korean singer taps populace sentiment

On June 13, 2002, when South Korea, Japan and the rest of the world were captivated by the 2002 FIFA World Cup, a 50-tonne U.S. army vehicle crushed two South Korean schoolgirls to death during a drill in Yangju, north of Seoul. The girls, Shin Hyo-soon and Shim Mi-seon, both 14, were on their way to a friend’s birthday party.

Wearing traditional funeral clothes, a protester holds a picture of two South Korean girls recently crushed to death by a U.S. military vehicle, at a rally near U.S. embassy in Seoul December 5, 2002.  REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won

Thousands of South Koreans protested for several months to demand then-U.S. President George Bush apologize directly for the incident and hand over the U.S. soldiers involved to South Korean court.

The soldiers left South Korea after they were acquitted in a U.S. military court in the country in November 2002, which inflamed anti-American sentiment.

Fighters in the ring of the law

A lawmaker (C) from opposition parties climbs onto the parliament chairman's seat as they scuffle with lawmakers (L) of the ruling Grand National Party to prevent them from passing new bills including the new year's budget bill at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

As the year winds down in Seoul, highly-educated fighters dressed in business attire gather for a dramatic showdown. A sky-blue colored dome theater is the venue, and this year, it was again prepared for the upcoming event. Chairs, tables and other office furniture are stacked up on the floor to block people from entering rooms. Police officers stand guard as they surround the domed theater to prepare for any emergency situations. There are ambulances and medics. All entrances to the theater are closed, with tight security allowing only those with prior authorization to enter.

Police officers stand guard in front of the National Assembly in Seoul December 8, 2010, while lawmakers and their aides from the ruling party and the opposition party scuffle.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A member of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) makes his way past a barricade of furniture, created by his party to block lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party and their aides, near an entrance of the main conference hall of parliament in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The match begins. Hundreds of people, who don’t look like mixed martial arts fighters, gather in front of the gate of the main event room. They are defenders. They discuss and plan their strategies. Chanting “Keep the position,” they form scrimmages. The opponent’s fighters roll up into the hall. The offenders also make a plan on how to break through defenders’ scrimmages. They stand ready to rush. Somebody from the attackers shouts “Let’s go.” All of the offenders including dozens of women make a dash. There’s pushing and shoving. The hall is filled with screams and shouts. Camera flashes are fired at them. It’s like a red carpet ceremony. Some fighters fall and collapse. One wounded person cries with pains. Immediately medics come and take her to a hospital.

Members of the ruling Grand National Party (L) scuffle with members of the main opposition Democratic Party who were blocking entry into the main conference hall of parliament, in Seoul December 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A security guard stands behind cracked glass at the main conference hall of parliament, after a clash between members of the ruling Grand National Party and members of the main opposition Democratic Party, in Seoul December 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

When the bell rings to signal half time, both sides are separated for bracing up. Broken glasses, stray shoes, split ID cards and many belongings are scattered around the hall. A huge glass door at the main entrance is unsightly broken. All done? No! It was just the first round. There is more excitement to come. Now we are moving to the main theater, also known as ‘National Assembly plenary session hall.’ From the comfortable seats in the gallery, we can watch the main event.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 12 December 2010

This week the blog should be called A Week (and a few extra hours ) in Pictures as I wanted to share a couple of images that came in late last Sunday and evaded my net as I trawled through the file. Both are from Thailand and both were shot by Sukree Sukplang. The first is a strong portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he leaves hospital in a wheelchair to attend a ceremony to celebrate his 83rd birthday. The picture seems to me to mirror the respect that the Thai people have for their King. What makes me think this I am not sure; maybe its the side light which creates studio-like modelling on the king's face highlighting every detail of his appearance, the crispness of the clothes, the beauty of the ceremonial medals and the rich colour of the royal sash. Or maybe it's just the way he is looking back into the lens, his eyes full of dignity and determination.

THAILAND/

 Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves the Siriraj Hospital for a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2010. King Bhumibol celebrates his 83rd birthday on Sunday.   REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

 The picture of people releasing balloons into the air has amazing diagonal composition with the eye being led up into the darkened sky by the use of the disappearing lanterns as they float up into the darkness, the black space on the left holding in the picture so we don't float away too.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 28 November 2010

I was listening to a radio programme about the history of military music (please bear with me) and a woman recounted a story about the first time she heard the "Last Post" being played at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday. The woman (sadly I don't remember her name), said that what really struck her was that after the moment of total silence was broken by the first notes of the Last Post she knew that every one of the thousands of people standing in Whitehall would be sharing the same thought - that of someone who they had loved and lost. Three stories this week put me in mind of this woman as I looked at images of people grieving for lost ones. The difference being that for each person lost the world was watching their story albeit only momentarily; the crushed people in Cambodia, the miners in New Zealand and the four people killed by the shelling by North Korea of the tiny island of Yeonpyeong.

CAMBODIA STAMPEDE/

People are crushed in a stampede on a bridge in Phnom Penh November 23, 2010. The stampede killed at least 339 people late on Monday and wounded nearly as many after thousands panicked on the last day of a water festival, authorities and state media said. REUTERS/Stringer

At 3.30am on the 24th I received a call from the desk telling me that that hundreds of people had been killed in Cambodia during the water festival. The picture I saw horrific, young people twisted together, some dead and some alive, panic in their eyes as people stampeded to try to leave an island linked by a bridge.  The picture of the people in the act of dying reminding me of the images from the Hillsborough soccer disaster in 1989 when fans were crushed to death in steel cages as more fans tried to crowd into the game, photographers pitch side only needing turn around to take these pictures, unable to help as the life was squeezed out of them.

Being a bird

South Korea’s Armed Forces Day is an annual event held on October 1.

seconddive

The country’s military puts on a variety of displays that include performances by military bands, drills by honor guard contingents and martial arts displays by special warfare units. There are also air shows with helicopters and fighting planes. One of the highlights of the event is a skydiving performance by South Korea’s Special Warfare Command soldiers.

The South Korean Defence Ministry invited the media for an opportunity to cover the airdrop exercise from their helicopters. I was one of the pool photographers. I’ve covered these type of helicopter missions several times before, but I was still excited albeit with some tension.

On September 29, 2009, two days before Armed Forced Day, Special Warfare Command parachuting team members prepared for their airdrop exercise.

Surrounded by demonstrations in South Korea

It was October, 1990 when I was on a street in central Seoul for the first times as a news photographer. My first job: to cover an anti-government demonstration by students and workers. Protected by a helmet and gas mask, I shot pictures with a Nikon FM2 without the help of a motor drive. It was a battle. The protesters, hundreds of them, had steel bars, stones and petrol bombs. They were forced back by riot police, armed with tear gas, heavy sticks and hard-edged shields.

It was in those last days of the country’s period of autocratic rule, riots and mayhem had become almost daily routine. Sometimes, the photographers, including me, were victims of attack from both sides

By 1997, news photography had become my full-time job. By then too, South Korea had a democratic government in power and major protests were less common. When they did happen, the tear gas may have gone but the tactics were tough and people got hurt. But now there was public opinion to worry about. There was an unwritten rule that members of the media should not be attacked.