Jeehey Kim’s ‘pioneering’ book on Korean photography is published

By: Michael Chesnick. October 6, 2023.

Nearly five years in the making, Jeehey Kim‘s new book is the first history of Korean photography in English.

Kim, an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Arizona School of Art, said she did most of the writing for “Photography and Korea” during the pandemic to go along with the book’s striking images.

Assistant Prof. Jeehey Kim

“As this is the first book on the history of Korean photography from the 19th century until now in the Western language, I hope it contributes to diversifying the field,” Kim said. “In addition, translation of the book into Korean, Japanese and Chinese is also underway to reach the broader public in Asia.”

The University of Chicago Press recently began distributing “Photography and Korea” for Reaktion Books, which published the 272-page book in the United Kingdom this summer. It features 41 color plates and 93 halftones.

Korean travelers brought photographic technology home from China in the late 19th century.

In her book, Kim presents multiple visions of Korea, including the divided peninsula, and the country as imagined through foreign eyes, key Korean artists and local photographers. Kim also explores studio and institutional practices during the Japanese colonial period, and the divergence of practices after the division of Korea.

“Kim draws on a selection of striking images to bring alive Korean politics, foreign relations and norms, making this both a comprehensive history of Korean photography and a worthy examination of Korean identity,” Publisher’s Weekly said.

Mina Kim, an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Alabama, called Jeehey Kim’s book “a unique contribution to our understanding of photography in Korea.”

“(She) shows how photography began in the region, who adopted and promoted it, and how the role of photography has evolved and diversified over periods since the 19th century,” Mina Kim continued, “as Korea developed through its colonial legacy, occupation and war, and rapid social, political and economic developments.”

Boyoung Chang, a Mellon assistant professor in History of Art and Architecture at Vanderbilt University, called Kim’s work “a pioneering study and a key resource for scholars of photography history, visual culture, Korean studies, and East Asian studies.”

“Not only does this book provide a framework for photo historians focusing on the region, but it also contributes to the decolonization and diversification of the history of photography,” Chang said.

Named an Early Career Scholar by the University of Arizona last spring, Kim is helping the Center for Creative Photography organize an exhibition on Korean contemporary photography in collaboration with the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It will open on Nov. 17, followed by a one-day symposium on Nov. 18 and a talk with four Korean photographers on Nov. 19.

In 2022, Kim created a three-part symposia centered on the history and practice of photography in KoreaTaiwan  and Southeast Asia.

Kim received a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Art History from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and a B.A. in English Literature from Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

Since coming to the University of Arizona in 2019, Kim has established nine art history classes, one of which was created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. She also taught at universities in New York, New Jersey, and Korea and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago.

• Reaktion books web page
• University of Chicago Press web page

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