His photos exposed a bloody crackdown, but his identity was a secret

Retired photojournalist Na Kyung Taek at his exhibit of images of the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement, in Gwangju, South Korea, June 13, 2024. The unsettling photos taken by Na, whose identity remained secret for many years, helped bring international attention to former military dictator Chun Doo-hwan and his junta's brutal suppression of a pro-democracy uprising. [Youngrae Kim/The New York Times]

 It is an iconic image — a black-and-white photo of a blood-splattered student being clubbed by a paratrooper medic. It was the first photo to slip through the military cordon around Gwangju, South Korea, in 1980, exposing the brutal suppression of what would be known as the Gwangju Democratization Movement.

But for years, the identity of the photographer — an unassuming man named Na Kyung-taek — remained a secret.

Na dared not take credit for the photo and other unsettling images from Gwangju for fear of the military junta and its leader, Chun Doo-hwan, whose crackdown there left hundreds killed or missing in the darkest chapter in South Korea's long struggle against dictatorship. Chun's rule ended in 1988, and now many in South Korea support a constitutional revision to sanctify Gwangju's role in the country's democratization. Still, most have never heard of Na.

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