David R. McCann was so in awe that he had to take pictures. South Korea’s countryside in 1966 was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“I kept looking at these beautiful hills and mountains and there were literally no trees at all,” says McCann, Korea Foundation professor of Korean literature, remembering his Peace Corps days during a phone interview. “They had all been cut down for fuel during the war.”
The country’s other great surprise, for a foreigner such as McCann? “The people,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how warm and welcoming they were. I loved it immediately.”
McCann’s photographs, which include everything from barren vistas to children’s soccer games, are among dozens taken by Harvard faculty members who’ve visited Korea. These are part of a new exhibit celebrating the Korea Institute’s 30th anniversary. Images of Korea, on display in the lobby of the CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge St., will run through March 15.
Some photographs are contemporary, such as those shot last July by Harvard-Yenching professor of Korean history and institute director Sun Joo Kim. In one of her images, Korean artists have assigned proverbs to various herbs in a medicinal herb shop at the T’ongin Market in Seoul. In another, beautiful lotuses, a Buddhist symbol of purity and rebirth, glisten with rain in one of South Korea’s sweeping, man-made lotus gardens.
McCann, shooting with a 35-millimeter Canon camera, chronicled a hike with a fellow English teacher and his wife in the Andong countryside. In the small village of Yechon, curious children gathered around his camera; boys in Andong, near the school where McCann taught, climbed trees to get a better view of a soccer game.
“They created their own bleachers,” McCann remembered fondly. “One boy balanced himself on a bicycle and it struck me as really funny. There is a sense of humor in a lot of these photos, not just mine. It’s a lot of fun, and very encouraging.”