Kuwabara Shisei: Documenting the US Military Base in Cold War Korea

Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 18 April, 2024
6:00pm BST - 7:00pm BST


Online lecture via Zoom.
50 min lecture followed by Q&A.
Free and open to all, booking essential.
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Dr Ji Hye Han (Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow 2023-2024, Sainsbury Institute)

About the Talk

In July 1964, Kuwabara Shisei (1936–), a renowned photojournalist, got on the plane to Korea. It was after eight years of careful preparation that he was finally able to set foot in Korea. Reflecting the fraught relationship between the two countries marked by many unresolved issues spawned from the Japanese colonization of Korea (1910–45), Japan and Korea did not normalize diplomatic relations until 1965.

In this challenging milieu, Kuwabara started his long engagement with Korea as one of the early Japanese photographers to be active in the country. Throughout the 1960s–80s, Kuwabara produced a rich body of photographs of Korea and compiled this into a photobook in 1986 with the title Kankoku gen’ei (also known as Korea 1964–86).

As its title suggests, the photobook features camera-based imagery of what Kuwabara regarded to be the primordial/foundational scenes of Korea. One of the gen’ei Kuwabara presents in the photobook is the USFK (United States Forces Korea) to which the photographer devotes the entire third chapter. From his first visit to Korea, Kuwabara understood the significance and implication of the US military presence in Korea and produced a considerable number of photos on the subject.

This lecture examines Kuwabara’s photographic representation of the US military in Kankoku gen’ei. What kinds of visual narratives on the USFK and Cold War imaginaries does Kuwabara present in the photobook? How are they different from the existing visual representations of the USFK in more widely circulating mass media, novels, and movies in Korea at the time? Through these questions and more, the lecture discusses the implications of Kuwabara’s photographs of the USFK and his staunch statement on the US military presence in Korea and beyond.

About the Speaker

Ji Hye Han is an art historian whose work examines photographic representations of the US military in Japan and Korea, two major host countries of US military overseas bases during the Cold War era. She is particularly interested in Japanese and Koreans’ imaginaries, and perceptions of the Americans during the Cold War reflected in those images. She received her Ph.D. from Sophia University in 2023.

At the Sainsbury Institute, she is working on the publication of the major chapters of the dissertation. One of her publications examines the first photobook by Ishiuchi Miyako (1947–), one of the pioneering women photographers of postwar Japan, called Zesshō, Yokosuka Story. Her other publication project investigates the photographic representation of the US military presence in 1960s–80s Korea by Kuwabara Shisei (1936–), one of the most eminent Japanese photojournalists who has worked in Korea since 1964.

Alongside publications, she is currently working on further contextualising Ishiuchi’s early career and exploring representations of Yokosuka by other women artists who grew up in or near Yokosuka from the 1930s to the 1960s.


Image: Kuwabara Shisei, Untitled (at Paju), from Kankoku gen’ei, 1965.

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.