Reconfiguring Korea: Roger Marshutz’s Photographs of Pusan, 1952–1954

Women fruit vendors in traditional clothes
Women fruit vendors in traditional clothes, PM 100420010

The photographs in this exhibition were taken by Sergeant Roger Marshutz (1929–2007) in the city of Pusan, South Korea, as the Korean War (1950–1953) drew to a close and the country began the arduous task of rebuilding.

While serving in the U.S. Army, Marshutz was assigned to document the activities of Brigadier General Richard S. Whitcomb, commander of the Twenty-fourth Korea Base Section/Pusan Military Post. Part of the collection is thus an official record of the reconstruction activities of the American military. But, in his spare time, Marshutz, who later became a professional photographer, wandered the streets of Pusan and photographed the daily life of Korean civilians, from street vendors and schoolchildren to refugees and prostitutes. These images, many of them in color, provide an unofficial look at a country in a moment of profound transition.

The majority of the photographs in this exhibition point to the increasing American presence in Korea—not only military and political but also social, economic, and cultural. The U.S. military oversaw construction projects and sponsored the building of numerous hospitals and orphanages. American influence was also evident in consumer goods such as food and clothing, as a flood of products entered the Korean market both legally and through the black market.

This collection, donated to the Peabody by Marshutz, documents an important and neglected chapter in the histories of the two nations.

The original exhibition was on display in 2006 and was co-curated by Sean Kim and Ilisa Barbash.