Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Invisible Surveillance: Photography as a Colonial Art and Cultural Rule

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Virginia Suite A, Lobby Level

This paper examines how photography gained currency as an art form through a variety of cultural venues such as exhibition and photographic contests during the Cultural Rule (Bunka seiji, 1919-1931) in colonial Korea. I specifically analyze how photography was invested by the working of political power, complex social relations, colonial desires and Korean response to the colonial cultural hegemony. In fact, photography was an efficient tool for the production of knowledge about colonial subjects and for validation of imperialistic encroachment of Japan into Korean territory since the late nineteenth century. Going beyond the explicit use of violent gaze of photography in implementing imperialistic ambitions, this paper draws attention to the era of Cultural Rule, which was triggered by the 1919 Independence Movement. Responding to the nationalist fervor of the Korean masses against the repressive Military Rule imposed by the Japanese Empire in 1919, Japanese colonial government strove to enhance the sophistication of the control apparatuses by shifting the focus from “military” to “cultural.” The contemporaneous notion of “culture” emphasized the significance of “spirit,” “self-formation,” individualism, and humanism, which framed the value and practice of photography. In order to offer critical understanding of “violence” in historical contexts, this paper delves into how colonial government, through regulating photographic practices, reinforced Japan’s cultural hegemony and placed Korean subjects under ‘graphic’ surveillance. I also look at photography as an embodiment of ambivalent cultural statements in colonial Korea by highlighting cultural negotiations and assimilation of the colonizer and the colonized.

Hye-ri Oh

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania

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