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Norman Thorpe photo exhibit portrays May 18 Democratic Uprising

Norman Thorpe photo exhibit portrays May 18 Democratic Uprising

Posted May. 07, 2021 07:29,   

Updated May. 07, 2021 07:29


It is the first time that vivid memories captured in photos back in the 1980 May 18 Democratic Uprising are disclosed publicly to portray the atrocities right after martial law troops broke in the Old South Jeolla Provincial Office or the last bastion of Gwangju citizens.

In commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the May 18 Democratic Uprising, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s bureau to restore the Old South Jeolla Provincial Office opens a special exhibition from Friday to May 31 on the second floor of an annex to the Old South Jeolla Provincial Office to reveal exclusive photos taken around the May 18 Democratic Uprising and donated by former Asia Wall Street Journal reporter Norman Thorpe.

Mr. Thorpe, currently based in Washington, D.C., worked as a journalist at Asia Wall Street Journal to report in Tokyo and Seoul between 1977 and 1982. The special exhibition puts on display around 200 pieces of cameras and photos taken for five days starting from May 23, 1980. His pictures captured sceneries around the old provincial office building on May 23, protests at Mokpo Station Square on May 24 and a group of demonstrators after a rally of citizens to safeguard democracy on May 26.

Mr. Thorpe was one of the first foreign journalists who were allowed to report on May 27 right after the martial law army invaded the Old South Jeolla Provincial Office. Entering the building at 7:30 a.m. on the day, he took pictures of nine out of 15 corpses of civil militias including their spokesperson Yoon Sang-won. A video clip includes photos of the locations and names of victims and their corpses being transmitted. It is a rare occasion where photos showing the indoor space of the provincial office are released although those portraying the outside of the building on May 27 or the last day of the uprising have often been disclosed.

Mr. Thorpe donated flyers and statements that he collected during the uprising to the South Korean government. He said that the May 18 Democratic Uprising wrote a chapter of the long struggle for the democratization of South Korea, hoping that it will be remembered that those who longed for democracy weathered excruciating pain and suffering.

Hyeong-Ju Lee peneye09@donga.com