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Visual Analysis

The photograph I have chosen to analyze was taken in a place in Korea that is known as Panmunjeon. Jong-Heon, in an article entitled Korea Truce Village At Peace, describes how Panmunjeon exists as a Joint Security Area (JSA) in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (KDZ) and is an area that is divided between two countries. This status basically entails that Panmunjeon is a place that belongs to no one. I believe that this very basic photograph communicates a great deal of information about the situation in Korea. At first glance the photograph shows a very simple scene.

In the centre of the picture is a single white line. Pictured either side of the white line are the two Korean armies; North Korea and South Korea. In the background is a large stone building that is surrounded by trees. A North Korean solider stands in the middle of the steps in front of the building facing away from the camera towards the entrance of the monument. Alongside each edge of the picture are two blue huts. Whilst the content of the photograph itself is very simple, the story behind this picture is far from simple.

The image represents a no man’s land; an area between the two opposing Korean forces that is symbolic of the stalemate that is currently in force between the two separate countries. This stalemate was created by an Armistice Agreement that was signed in 1953 by both North and South Korea. The agreement created a cease-fire that ended the attempts of the two separate Korean powers to unify Korea under their own regime. Since that date the two divided administrations have existed side by side and this photograph has been taken at the very point where they meet.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war and thus this image acts as a metaphor for an area that Jerome Taylor, in a 2007 Independent article, described as “[a place where] the Cold War still rages (and) a place where only metal and guns can keep two foes apart”. In the center of the photograph, flanked by two guards is a single white line of thick concrete. This is the official military demarcation line and represents the exact point where the two countries are divided. This, together with a juxtaposition of the two separate armies in one image, provides a stark contrast between the two halves of Korea.

On the near side of the photograph are the South Korea soldiers who are facing towards North Korea. They belong to a country that has a presidential representative democracy; a place where their people are free to vote for who they wish to lead their country and have freedom to state their opinions and beliefs. The solders in the back of the picture are symbols of communism. They represent a highly centralized totalitarian regime where the government is extremely controlling and limits the information the people of the country have access to.

In the same way the soldiers exist in this photograph side by side, the two separate parts of a once unified Korea also exist alongside one another. I find this very thought inspiring as all of this has been captured in one solitary image. In the background of the photograph is the North Korean building of Panmungak, a large stone building that has been built a top of a large mound and thus looks tall and dominating. The building, together with the trees, blocks the viewers’ ability to see further into North Korea and creates a sense of secrecy and privacy.

This is a highly appropriate image as North Korea is a closed country, that few people from outside the country are permitted to visit (Harold 6). I find the picture’s appearance very depressing. The colors of the buildings and the uniforms provide me with a sense of melancholy. The trees in the background are an exception to this and their fresh green acts as a stark contrast to the grey appearance of the rest of the photograph. I find this ironic, as their presence acts is symbolic of nature and freedom, a place where life that cannot be controlled is in existence within a country that is.

The powder blue huts on each side of the photograph with their tin roofs and wooden walls remind me of the camps from the World War II period. The place pictured looks as though it is frozen in time, a soulless area where no change has occurred since the period it was created. This reinforces the feeling of stalemate and impasse that is associated with the political situation between the two Korean enemies. I find the photograph of Panmunjeom very thought provoking. I stare at the trees beyond the Panmungak and wonder what life is like for the people who live there.

I also wonder what each of the soldiers think as they stand so close to their enemy; do they believe that these two countries should be separate or do they wish they could reach across that white line and shake hands with their fellow soldier? I also question what all of this is for. For the majority of the world the Cold War is a distant memory, yet here it is alive and well. No one seems to care though and the situation exists far away in a place that is so removed from our daily lives that we rarely think of it.

Works Cited

Harrold, Michael. Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. Jong-Heon, Lee. “Korea Truce Village At Peace”, Space War, Your World At War, 20 December 2006. Space War. 3rd November 2008 <http://www. spacewar. com/reports/Korea_Truce_Village_At_Peace_999. html> Taylor, Jerome. “The ultimate North-South divide: Fore! Welcome to the world’s most dangerous golf course. ” The Independent, 4 April 2007. Independent Online. 3rd November 2008 <http://www. independent. co. uk/news/world/asia/the-ultimate-northsouth-divide-fore-welcome-to-the-worlds-most-dangerous-golf-course-443211. html>

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