A gentler life: Korea poses a century ago

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A gentler life: Korea poses a century ago

When the Australian stereographic photographer George Ross arrived in Korea in 1904, Seoul was just beginning to show signs of modernization. Electric streetcars had just begun to run on the main streets around Namdaemun, yet rickshaw pullers waited in the shade for passengers. Near the West Gate, Sodaemun, clusters of Korean "boomerang-shaped houses" stood next to big Western-style houses built for foreign missionaries.

A collection of some of those old images of Korea that Ross captured will be on display in Daehangno, Seoul starting Thursday. The "George Ross Photography" exhibition was initiated by Norman Thorpe, an American researcher and a former correspondent of the Asian Wall Street Journal, who found the photographs in the archives of a photography museum at the University of California at Riverside a few years back.

Ross, born in the gold mining town of Clunes in the southeastern Australia state of Victoria to a father who was a Cornish sea captain, took naturally to travel, natural history and astronomy. After his passion focused on photography, he journeyed all over Europe, North Africa and Asia with his heavy plate camera, along with his two younger brothers, Walter and William.

The early documentation of Korea, which shows in stunning detail the changes that Seoul was experiencing in the early part of the last century, is often accompanied by the photographer's lively notes and anecdotes about the local culture.

Of one photo he took of the early morning market near Namdaemun, Ross wrote, "On market day, Seoul is crowded with country folk, who generally spend the whole day haggling over their purchases." Ross described how the Korean children showed "mingled feelings of fear and curiosity" at the white-skinned photographer and his camera. The majority of photos on display are street scenes of commercial districts and villages during the Japanese occupation of Korea. But there are also some photographs of Australia between 1901 and 1903.

Unfortunately, some of the glass negatives of his sterographs were lost or have deteriorated. But overall, the photos are remarkably well-preserved and clear.

"George Ross Photography" will be on display at the Marronnier Gallery (02-3676-0171) through April 26.

by Park Soo-mee

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