Czechs in Korea: Long-ago photos and observations

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Czechs in Korea: Long-ago photos and observations


Enrique Stanko Vraz (1847-1938), above, a Czech traveler who arrived in Korea in 1901. His pictures of Seoul and travel notes are currently on display in Seoul.

With dreams about a country in East Asia that had just opened up to the West, 41-year-old Czech traveler and photographer Enrique Stanko Vraz arrived at Jemulpo, Korea, on April 27, 1901.

During his three-week visit, Vraz took pictures of Seoul, which have been never published before now, and left records about his trip, which have become precious historic records showing vivid images of the Korean capital in the early 20th century.

The Czech Embassy in Korea and Naprstek Museum in Prague are having a joint exhibit at the Seoul Museum of History of photos and travel notes of Vraz, along with pieces by other Czech travelers who visited Korea as well. The exhibit opened on April 14 and runs until June 12.

“Traditionally, the Czech Republic has been the center of travel and interest in historical archives about foreign countries,” said Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr. “When I was newly appointed as the ambassador, I proposed to Korea an exhibit about these archives and the Czech museum lent the photos.”

In Vraz’s travel notes, displayed as part of the exhibit, Vraz described Korea as “the most beautiful country in East Asia with abundant natural resources and mild climate.”

“In this surprisingly beautiful country, I met with some artistically brave religious assets and took pictures of them,” Vraz said in his notes. “Local residents were all nice to me and provided accommodations in temples where many monks live.”


Left, pedestrians on Namdaemun-no, central Seoul, look up at a utility pole newly built in the Korean capital for trains that started operation in 1899. Right, in front of a traditional Korean house, two westerners, who seem to be a doctor and a nurse, pose with Korean girls who seem to be patients. Provided by the Czech Embassy in Korea and the Naprstek Museum in Prague

In 52 photos of 80, Vraz focused on the daily lives of ordinary people, such as a girl wearing a head cloth before going out or a newlywed couple. He also recorded information about some female students and missionaries as well as Western doctors and nurses and their patients. Most Koreans had never seen a camera before and were understandably nervous; most figures in his photos are staring directly, and awkwardly, at the camera lens.

With the help of a Korean tour guide, Vraz visited Gyeongbok Palace, which had been vacant since King Gojong and his royal family left for Russian Legation, after being threatened by pro-Japanese collaborators. Vraz’s wide shots of historic scenes in central Seoul, such as streets in Jongno near Doneuimun, an ancient wooden gate burned down by the Japanese, remind viewers of the passing of time.

“Among the photos taken by Vraz, the one showing a Western-style clock tower and the scenery of Nakseonjae at Changdeok Palace are really valuable and precious archives,” an official of the museum said. “The photos showing the Western hospitals and schools are also very valuable.”

After he left Korea through Busan Harbor on May 19, Vraz wrote a journal for a Czech newspaper called Svomost, after the March 1st Independent Movement had happened.

“I deeply sympathized with Koreans [under the Japanese colonial rule],” Vraz said in his journal. “While Japanese are wielding blades and blood to eradicate the voices and outcries for freedom [of Koreans], I am concerned what the next news will be heard from Korea.”

The exhibit also introduces photos and books of other Czechs who visited Seoul, such as Josef Korensky, the first Czech who traveled in Busan and Wonsan in 1901 and published his travel notes, and Barbora Marketa Eliasova, a female Czech traveler, who came to Korea in 1933 and met with a string of Korean independence fighters to write a novel titled “A Korean Guy Namsuk (Namsuk, mlady Korejec)” in 1934.

“The exhibition is very meaningful, as it is held by the Naprstek Museum in Prague, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Korea and Seoul Museum of History,” an official of the museum said. “We expect this exhibition to be a good chance to look back at the unknown relationship between the Czech Republic and Korea.”

By Kim Hee-jin []

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
110년 전 서울선 전봇대도 구경거리
체코작가 브라즈 사진공개
1901년 한국여행 24일 기록
대한제국 일상이 고스란히

지금부터 110년 전인 1901년 4월 서울 도심에선 전봇대 수리를 하는 것이 큰 구경거리였다. 서울 남대문로를 지나는 전철이 놓인 것이 1899년 12월이었다. 당시 서울 사람들이 서양 문물에 관심을 보였던 것도 무리가 아니다. 그 시절 경복궁의 북문인 신무문 길 옆엔 서양식 시계탑이 있었고, 여성들이 따로 치료를 받았던 병원도 있었다. 지금은 사라져버린 모습들이 110년 전 서울을 찾았던 한 서양인의 카메라에 기록됐다.

 엔리케 스탄코 브라즈(Enrique Stanko Vraz·1860~1932). 여행가이자 작가, 사진가인 브라즈는 1901년 4월 27일 인천 제물포항을 통해 한국(당시 대한제국)에 첫발을 내디뎠다. 그는 5월 19일 부산항을 통해 일본으로 떠나기 전까지 24일 동안 한국에 머물면서 사람들의 모습과 경관을 카메라에 담았다.

 브라즈는 훗날 저서 『중국, 여행스케치』(1904)의 3장 ‘북경에서 한국을 거쳐 시베리아로’에 짧은 방문기와 사진을 실었다.

“한국은 동아시아 대륙에서 가장 아름다운 나라라고 불릴 만큼 풍요로운 자연과 온화한 기후를 갖추고 있었다.” 당시 오스트리아-헝가리제국 에 속했던 체코 출신의 브라즈는 이 방문을 계기로 한국에 관심을 갖게 됐다. 3·1운동이 일어난 직후인 1919년 4월 미국에서 발행된 체코어 신문엔 “나는 한국인들에게 깊이 공감한다 ”고도 썼다.

 브라즈가 찍은 사진 52점과 그가 썼던 카메라, 필름 등을 전시하는 ‘1901년 체코인 브라즈의 서울 방문’ 특별전(입장료 무료)이 오는 6월 12일까지 서울역사박물관 1층 기획전시실에서 열린다. 서울역사박물관 조영훈 학예사는 “브라즈의 사진은 대한제국 시절의 서울을 확인할 수 있어 역사적 사료로서 가치가 높다”고 말했다. 이번 전시회는 야로슬라브 올샤 주한 체코대사가 서울역사박물관 측에 브라즈의 사진을 소장하고 있는 체코 국립박물관을 소개하면서 이뤄졌다.
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