Hye-ri Oh Colloquium


Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

“Technology, Truth and Discourse:The Migration of the Conception of ‘Sajin’ from Portrait to Photograph”

Hye-ri Oh, Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Art and Architecture Department


Image Credit: Yi Hang-ŏk, Yŏnhaeng ilgi (Chosŏn envoy’s Diary in Beijing),1863. The highlighted term in the text is ‘sajin’(photography) in Chinese characters.

This study examines the emergence of the Korean conception of photography in the late nineteenth century. The term sajin, which literally means “transcription of truth” and was originally used for portraiture, began to be adopted as a translation for photography after the ratification of the Treaty of Kanghwa between Korea and Japan in 1876. This paper seeks to trace the linguistic shifts of the term sajin that defined and validated photography in Korea. The introduction of photography to Korea was, to a considerable extent, mediated by expanding contact with Japanese culture and industry. This study thus draws attention to the common linguistic translation for and the parallel discourses on photography in Korea and in Japan. Putting aside notions of photography as a universal medium with its own internal historical evolution, I argue that the notion of “photography” was a contested field across which complex cultural negotiations and multilateral cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan can be traced. By considering photography as a discursive construction, I aim to bring out the investment of the multi-layered structures of the concept of photography by a complex history of debates on aesthetics, social reform, and intercultural relationship between Korea and Japan.