KOREA: A potter taking his wares to market sits for his photo portrait by Jackson. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

By Alex Jones


FASCINATING one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year-old colour photos give a rare insight to what life was like in Korea at the end of the 19th century – long before the country was split in two.

Remarkable images, taken in 1895, show two Korean residents enjoyed a feast of wine and biscuits, a local dignitary being carried through a provincial village, and three colourfully bedecked gentleman on board a ship destined for strange new lands.

Another lively picture shows a group of children clearly intrigued by the new-fangled camera.

KOREA: Korean sand pack-saddled ox in the hill district between Seoul and Wonsan. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

The striking photos were snapped by pioneering American photographer, William Henry Jackson as part of an extensive world tour. He travelled through Asia, Africa and Oceania taking photos for the World’s Transportation Commission.

The tour, set up by railroad magnate Joseph Gladding Pangborn, was initially organised to explore and examine different railroads systems throughout the world, but Jackson took the opportunity to capture the local people, architecture and landscape during his 1994-1896 explorations. His photos were featured in numerous publications and allowed ordinary people to experience life in countries they had only ever heard about before.

KOREA: A bustling street scene with curious bystanders in Seoul. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

As colour photography was in its infancy all of Jackson’s pictures were taken on black and white lantern slides. To make the lantern slides look more realistic, certain slides such as these were coloured by hand with dyes and paints.

At the time Jackson snapped his captivating pictures, Korea was slowly emerging from the shadow of the Russian empire after a turbulent history.  After many years of being ruled by generations of dynastic kingdoms, a unified Korea enjoyed a brief spell of independence at the end of the 19th century before it was occupied by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and the country was formally annexed five years later. Korea laboured under Japanese colonial rule for years—until the end of the Second World War, when its division into two nations began.

KOREA: Jackson snaps a group of happy, curious children in Korea. Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain

Following the end of the war, the country was effectively split between the Soviet Union (North Korea) and the United States (South Korea). The peninsula became a Cold War battleground and descended into actual war between 1950-1953, killing over 2.5 million people.

Sixty-six years later, the situation remains difficult. However, history was made last year when North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in person. Mr Kim became the first North Korean leader to cross into South Korean territory since the end of the Korean War in 1953.