Collective Memory

Chair: Christine Conley, University of Ottawa  



Jung Joon Lee, City University of New York, Queensborough Community College

No End to the Image War: Photography and the Contentious Memories of the Korean War

This paper investigates the relationship between photographs of the Korean War and the collective memory of that experience. The Korean War was a defining moment in the modern history of Korea, wracking the contested land and causing devastating casualties during the very early stages of the Cold War. However, in contrast to World War II photographs such as Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, or Robert Capa’s photographs of the Normandy invasion, it is difficult to claim specific photographs as iconic enough to conjure up the memory of the Korean War despite the presence of both Korean and foreign war correspondents during the hostilities. The paper examines the political and cultural implications of this seeming absence of popularized photographs of the Korean War. I posit that the lack of iconic images of the war both inside and outside the country is closely linked to the unstable and conflicted nature of the Korean people’s memories of the war even as we approach the 60th anniversary of the armistice on July 27, 2013.

The article traces the connection between the seeming absence of iconic images and the conflicted memories of the war through assessments of Korean War photographs of chŏnjaenggoa (war orphans) and of Saenghwalchuŭi Realism, the dominant photographic movement in South Korea in the two decades following the war. The assessment of Korean War photographs reveal that its memories are not synchronic, homogeneous, or firmly anchored in South Korea itself. The collective memory of the Korean War proves rather a chaotic space of nebulous and undefined ideas and opinions about the war as well as the accumulative events that have occurred since.


Kim, Hyŏnggon (2007). Han’gukchŏnjaengŭi Kiŏkkwa Sajin. P’aju: Han’gukhaksuljŏngbo. Ch’oe, Min (2006).

‘Straight Photo, Realism, Documentary.’ In Han’guksajinŭi Chaepalgyŏn: 1950-1960nyŏndaeŭi Sajindŭl. Seoul: Nunbit.

Griffin, Michael (1999). ‘The Great War Photographs: Constructing Myths of History and Photojournalism.’ In Picturing the Past: Media, History & Photography. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Rich, John (2010). Korean War in Color: A Correspondent’s Retrospective on a Forgotten War. Seoul: Sŏul Selleksyŏn.



Rania Abdelrahman, Cairo University

Remembering Port-Said 1956: Images of Popular Resistance in Egyptian Documentaries

A few years after Egypt announced its independence from Britain, became a republic, King Farouq and his family left Egypt, President Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. This decision brought about what came to be known in history as the “Tripartite Attack” on Port-Said in 1956. Shortly after the departure of the foreign troops from Port-Said and the end of the war, the Egyptian national Television produced a documentary which covered the events, demonizing the agents of the attack while glorifying the nationalist leader. The people of Port-Said were absent from this documentary. Two other long documentary films were produced by the BBC that portrayed the events from political analysts’ perspectives, and presented the views of contemporaries of President Nasser and Prime Minister Eden. They focused on analyses of leaders’ positions, views, decisions and even attitudes to each other.

The aim of this paper is to show how Youtube documentaries filled a gap in our cultural memory of the events that took place in Port-Said in 1956. They compensated for an absence that can be detected in the documentaries on the Suez War. They go beyond leaders’ political decisions, focusing instead on the experiences of ordinary people. We get a closer glimpse of ordinary civilians’ experiences under occupation and of their daily lives during the war. It is the people of this small city who paid the price of politicians’ decisions. Therefore, it is those people’s actions, experience and forms of popular resistance that is the focus of attention in this paper. The photographs portray girls, boys and women holding weapons: social groups one would not expect to find facing the attack of the world’s mightiest powers.

How do Youtube documentary makers remember the war more than fifty years later? The 21st century documentaries foreground the real heroes and heroines: the ordinary civilians of Port-Said through photographs, videos and songs. This paper analyses the perspectives of both the colonized represented in the civilians as well as the colonizer represented in the foreign armies in the photographs. The issue of agency in these photographs is also examined. It also investigates the relationship between images (represented in old photographs and parts of historical videos documenting the 1956 events) and sounds (represented in music or old songs about Port-Said). The ’emplotment’ of the documentaries are analyzed in order to address the issues of: identity as difference or commonality, the multiplicity of identity and its constructed nature. What are the politics of remembering Port-Said 1956 in the present?  The cultural context of the act of remembering and the maker of each documentary’s self-representation in relation to his representation of subject are scrutinized. Given the contextual nature of memory, the experiences of the past are reinterpreted in contemporary acts of remembering.


Brothers, Caroline (1997). War and Photography: A Cultural History. London: Routledge.

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. (2001). Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Kyong Chun, Wendy Hui and Thomas Keenan (Eds.) (2006). New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge.



Nanette Norris, Royal Military College Saint-Jean

Vietnam: Memory of Desecration in dePalma’s Casualties of War 

The people of Vietnam have suffered multiple invasions over the centuries. What we call the Vietnam War, and to this day think of as part of the fight against communism, was the American War to them. It was yet another invasion by foreigners. Daniel Lang’s Casualties of War recounts an atrocity committed by American soldiers in 1966. Based upon interviews with one of the soldiers who refused to participate, and upon research of court documents, this narrative brought the rape and murder of a young Vietnamese girl to the awareness of the American public in 1969, while the war was still on going. Brian dePalma’s film, Casualties of War, was released many years after, in 2001. Although it closely follows the original Lang narrative— and was advertised as “one man’s quest for sanity and justice amidst the chaos of war” — its true art lies in its ability to underline the personal narrative with a political one which we are only now beginning to understand: the trope of rape in the Vietnamese memory of the American Occupation. DePalma has found the one verifiable incident (My Lai, of course, would be another, but on a more massive scale) which metaphorically parallels the development of a national sensibility, in Vietnam, in Korea, and probably in the Occupied East generally. Colette Balmain argues that scenes of extreme violence against women in Korean cinema express ‘han’, or rage, against the total vulnerability and helplessness of the population during the Occupation (of Korea). I will analyse the trope of rape in dePalma’s Casualties of War as it expresses the growing sensibility of the Vietnamese people to their trauma of Occupation.



Lisa Moran, PhD candidate, National College of Art and Design

Artist as Witness – commemorative strategies in the work of Miroslaw Balka and Doris Salcedo

‘The past now has no agreed narrative shape of its own. It acquires meaning only by reference to our many and often contrasting present concerns’ (Judt 2008).

Commemoration is informed by different viewpoints and multiple agendas all of which cannot be accommodated within a singular commemorative object, event or action suggesting that the task of commemoration is ‘possibly impossible’ (Winter 2013).

This paper will focus on the commemorative work of Polish artist Miroslaw Balka and Columbian artist Doris Salcedo created in response to their respective artistic imperatives and addressing the social, historical and personal consequences of war and conflict in Poland and Columbia respectively. Resisting what Walter Benjamin referred to as ‘the anaestheticising and neutralising potential of commemoration’, their work addresses issues of loss and commemoration but resists strategies of consolation, recovery and transcendence (Jay 1996).

Salcedo employs strategies of witnessing and giving voice to that which has not or cannot be expressed and by doing so she holds open the space for dissent and critique. As curator Tanya Barson, notes “Her work is about loss, grief and mourning, but it does not address commemoration or create monuments in the conventional sense” (Barson 2004). Defying Theodor Adorno’s interdict to create poetry after Auschwitz, the emphasis in Salcedo’s work is on the use of the poetic. She resists strategies of naming and making specific within her work, enabling the work to address both the specificity of the individual and the universal.

Similarly, concerns with commemoration underpin much of the practice of Polish artist Miroslaw Balka. His work spans the personal and the collective, referencing his own history and the troubled history of his native Poland. Primarily sculptural, his work employs minimalist objects, spaces and absence. He explores memory and the elusiveness of historical truth but, like Salcedo, he avoids strategies of narrative and consolation. Focusing on traces and absence his work resists the imperative to remember or the seduction of forgetting.


Tony Judt, (2008). Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, London: Random House, p.4.

Jay Winter, (2013). radio interview in context of Holocaust Memorial Lecture Primo Levy, A Moral Witness, TCD, 2013.

Martin Jay (1996). Walter Benjamin, Remembrance and the First World War, working/archivos/1996_87.pdf

Tanya Barson (2004). “‘Unland’. The Place of Testimony”, in Tate Papers, Spring 2004, pp 1-10,, accessed 17/09/2007.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.