The Photographers

UNKRA’s Film Unit at work [S-0526-0348-0144]

Josef Breitenbach (1896-1984) worked for UNKRA between 1952 and 1953, at the beginning of the Agency’s operations. Breitenbach is a renowned photographer who belonged to the surrealist movement. Originally from Austria, he fled his country in 1933 to travel to Paris where he became acquainted with André Breton. After six years in the French capital where he took many artistic photographs, Breitenbach moved to New York where he spent the rest of his life.

During his trip to South Korea, Breitenbach took several photographs that were circulated around the world by DPI. Breitenbach’s photographs depicted the lives of Koreans during and after the war and the reconstruction projects implemented by UNKRA. Breitenbach also took photographs for his personal collection, which he exhibited in the United States on his return from Korea and are currently held at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. The catalogue of his work is available online  .

André Malaterre, a French doctor seconded to UNCACK by UNKRA, made his rounds as member of his health team with a camera over his shoulder and a ready eye for a picture. His work took him to many places that the average UNKRA employee would not otherwise penetrate. Some photographs show the desperate humanitarian situation experienced by Koreans who were afflicted by serious epidemics. Malaterre took over 2,000 stills during the 13 months he served in South Korea; from these he selected 117 for DPI. Event then, DPI recognised the value of his work in documenting the reality of the atrocities and consequences of war in the field where others haven’t been to.Several other DPI field staff also took photographs of inauguration ceremonies and of the everyday lives of Koreans. For example, the photographs of Pusan’s streets taken by Ralph O’Dette or the stills of the UNKRA motion pictures unit by Theodore Conant. Conant collaborated with this unit which produced radio broadcasts and film documentaries, as did Michael J. O’Halloran who took over from Breitenbach as the UNKRA official photographer between 1953 and 1957. Unfortunately, we were not able to identify his pictures or to recall his career.

UNKRA’s Film Unit at work [S-0526-0348-0144]

The collection we hold was created with the goal of visually documenting UNKRA’s work so as to inform the public in general, and the donors in particular, of the progress of construction and rehabilitation projects in South Korea.

In addition, there are photographs taken by companies to show their machines, such as the dredge, operating in Kunsan-Changhang harbor, manufactured by Hawaiian Dredging Company.

The agents of DPI had to face the lack of good quality photographs. They received prints adequate to their communication policy but they had to look for the author of these prints in order to get the negatives. This is the case of the shot showing a child sleeping on the floor with a brick for a pillow. The photograph was taken by Captain Wandelt, a military woman, who the agents attempt to locate, but who does not respond to letters sent to her.

In general, agents point to the shortage of shots available to them. In Korea, quality photographic film is scarce. Breitenbach started to build a dark room to reveal the photographs but because materials paucity, he couldn’t succeed. The negatives had to be sent by airmail to the United States to be developed. The prints are then sent to the press and donors all around the world.

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