Monday, December 24, 2012


by Drew Martin
A neighbor came over Saturday night with a bottle of wine to catch up on life, because we have not seen each other in a while. She is originally from South Korea, so I pulled out an album of pictures that my uncle took when he was there on a peacekeeping mission for the army in the mid-1960s. The album is actually a 1965 desk calendar of Korea. He placed his photographs on the dates pages, opposite the full-color calendar image for each week.

My uncle died in a car accident a couple years after returning to America, a couple years before I was born. I have only had the album for a year but I have looked at it many times. This time, however, one picture caught my eye; an American family (parents, and a young boy and a young girl) standing outside their house in a southern region of the peninsula. I took it out of the book and noticed that my uncle wrote the date, their last name and the location on the back of the photograph. I Googled this information and (in a matter of seconds) found an article written by the boy in the picture (now a man in his 50s) about this period of his life. He was born and spent his childhood in Korea because his parents were missionaries.

Since Saturday night, I have corresponded with the "kids" in the photograph, and the album is en route to the sister's home, where she will show it to their mother. There were several pictures that will bring back memories for them, and even though I do not know much about my uncle, more important than this keepsake is knowing that this family was a slice of home for him. I remember being abroad in my 20s and meeting such families and thinking, "I want this some day too." I believe this family inspired my uncle because after he returned to America, he prepared to go back overseas and teach English and do missionary work in Afghanistan.

I snapped some pictures of the album spreads before I sent it, and noticed that my uncle had established a relational display of his photographs to the calendar images. Sometimes his pictures almost mimic the professional shots. Other times they are (obviously) more personal and detailed, such as a picture of him rappelling from a mountain that is shown in the calendar. Many of the arrangements are humorous, such as (top) a picture of his buddies on a summit, opposite two pretty women who appear to be checking them out (wishful thinking).

There are also a couple arrangements that are insightful and have more meaningful social commentary. In one spread (middle) his pictures of a bunker, from inside out, are opposite an ornate Korean interior. His exterior shot of the bleak bunker is placed just above the caption for the color image, "The throne of the Yi Dynasty kings, suffering from desuetude but not from regal grandeur."

Perhaps the spread that is most poignant (bottom) is one with a picture of a lone woman washing pots, above an image of several women hunched over, toiling in a rice paddy. It is opposite a sexy/sexist picture of a catwalk of Korean beauties in their swimsuits. The caption for the show, which appears just below the paddy image is "Miss Korea hopefuls take to bathing suits to display their physical charms."