Born in an area that is now part of North Korea, photographer Han Youngsoo’s work gives us rare insight into how the country rebuilt itself after the Korean War. Fighting on the front lines as a young South Korean soldier, Youngsoo returned to an unrecognizable Seoul after the war ended.
Post-war Seoul, left devastated and impoverished, is the backdrop for Youngsoo’s photography. Haunted by the horrors of war, he was stunned to see that “people lived on” despite hardship. The young soldier became a professional photographer, capturing street life in between editorial assignments. In doing so, he both created a historical record and healed himself.
“Though struggling with the multifaceted after-effects of the Korean War, the 1950s was a period of recovery,” Youngsoo wrote. “I was able to find hope watching cities and rural communities being rebuilt; in the bustling markets and the sparkling eyes of children, the laughter I had forgotten. Slowly but steadily I was recovering my own humanity.”
Captured between 1956–1963, the Korean photographer’s work was rarely seen outside the country until now. Currently, the first major U.S. exhibition of his photos is on at the International Center of Photography until June 7, 2017 in Jersey City, NJ. The exhibition was organized in part by the Han Youngsoo Foundation, which works to keep the photographer’s memory alive after his passing in 1999 and has published two books, Seoul, Modern Times and Once Upon a Time.