As an avid, well-trained photographer, sketcher and recorder, Straight took about 380 photographs and painted a very small number of sketches during his two spells in Korea in 1904 and 1905. Our aim has been to identify and select about two hundred of these and incorporate these materials into a project which amounts to a visual and contextual narrative of Korea at a most critical juncture in its more recent, modern history. The photographs document landscapes, urban scenes, people (both common, notable or noble ones), and, most interestingly, record numerous important events. These images together offer a unique view of the country, and a rare insight into a Korea during the very early twentieth century which - through various diplomatic and other means - was not permitted to migrate into independent nationhood at the time.
The image collection put together here also includes Japanese postcards (some of them hand-colored) on Korean customs, a small collection of which was found in the Straight archives, and which we felt added value to the overall presentation of the cultural and historic circumstances of the era.
As image captions go, Willard Straight - or whose hand assembled the materials in the first place - applied them very sparingly, if at all. Our descriptive texts are in many cases based on what we see, and not necessarily on what we understand. This is most unfortunate, since - as alluded to above - it is rather obvious to the beholder of these images that many historic moments were captured on film for the first time. To trace these events in Korean, Japanese or western language materials (primary or secondary) has in some perhaps even important instances at least proven elusive and futile.
Besides the visual materials, a number of textual documents have been preserved which we believe are of relevance to the understanding of the time period in question (1904-1905). Since Willard Straight left Korea on Dec. 25, 1905, he was witness to events which would alter the course of history in the region. Many of his reports and letters to friends and family members have been preserved, and have been underused and gone unnoticed in the general body of literature on things Korean of the time period. For instance, Michael Finch's recent publication on Min Yong-hwan makes mention of Min's funeral. In Straight's archives, we find a very interesting verbal depiction of this funeral, which differs in vision and version considerably from Finch's source materials. A number of other scholars working on the same time period and region cite Herbert Croly's work on Willard Straight (specifically chapter VI, entitled The Murder of a Nation), but have not gone further to do archival studies. For these, and numerous others that might follow, as well as the general public, these materials are now made available in electronic format, to serve as the basis for further studies, or as sources to perhaps verify previously stated assumptions. By all accounts, and taken by themselves even, they make for interesting and informed reading.