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Whitworth's Norman Thorpe Receives Grant for Historic Korean Photo Exhibit

Whitworth adjunct professor Norman Thorpe was curator of an exhibit of more than 20 rare, historic photos of Korea that were displayed at the Munye Gallery in Seoul, Korea, April 18-26. Thorpe received a $9,000 grant from the Australia-Korea Foundation to exhibit the photographs, which were taken by George Rose, a pioneer Australian photographer who documented Korean and Australian culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Rose visited Korea in 1904 and produced more than 50 images known as stereographs, which are photos containing dual images that produce a 3-D effect when viewed through a special optical device.

Thorpe discovered Rose's glass negatives several years ago in the Museum of Photography at the University of California, Riverside. The images were particularly interesting to Thorpe because Korea had not been extensively photographed during the early 20th century. The photos are important historical documents, Thorpe says.

"The photos show us things we would otherwise have to imagine from verbal descriptions," he says.

The Australia-Korea Foundation grant allowed Thorpe to reproduce Rose's glass negatives as poster-size prints, which gave viewers an opportunity to see distinct details of historic Korean life.

"The glass negatives produced high-quality enlargements that are wonderfully clear and show fine details," Thorpe says. "It's very rare in Korea to have such high-quality photos to exhibit."

The photos depict important aspects of Korean culture during the early 1900s, including the modernization of Korea that was just beginning to take place in 1904, Thorpe says. The photos also document an extensive Japanese presence in Korea during the early 1900s.

"The Japanese presence shown in these photos far exceeds what you would imagine it to have been at that time," Thorpe says. "The verbal descriptions of Japanese presence sound like exaggerations, but the photographs prove that those descriptions are true. That's why these photos are so important; they tell us so much more than any text does."

The verification of a strong Japanese presence in Korea in 1904 is very significant, in Thorpe's opinion. "Six year later, in 1910, Japan will take over Korea and make it a Japanese colony, and Korea won't escape colonial rule until 1945, when the Japanese empire is defeated at the end of World War II, " Thorpe says.

The photos of Korea were exhibited alongside another set of Rose's photos of Australia that were taken during the same time period. Ron Blum, of Oaklands Park, South Australia, prepared Rose's Australia photos for the exhibit and has researched Rose and his work for many years.

The complete exhibition, consisting of reproductions prepared by Thorpe and Blum, is owned by the Australia-Korea Foundation, which is overseen by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It will be exhibited in locations throughout Korea.

Thorpe, who earned a master's degree in Korean studies from the University of Washington, has been researching historic photographs of Korea for about 10 years. He uses some of the photos in a class he teaches on contemporary Korea each Jan Term at Whitworth. A former reporter for the Asian Wall Street Journal in Korea, Thorpe is an adjunct professor in Whitworth's Communications Studies Department and in the college's Politics & History Department.

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