Pasatiemto Magagine : : May 24-30, 2002
JUNG JIN LEE
By Teri Thomson Randall
For thousands of years, artist in Asia have painted on th delicate, textured surface of handmade rice paper. Having grown up with these paintings, it seemed only natural to Korean photographer Jungjin Lee to Print her photographs on that same paper to them a painterly quality
Captured in remote countrysides of Korea and Thailand, and in America's desert. Lee'as black-and-white photographs on rice paper have a soft, antiquated feeling. They seem less about recording specific times and places and more about creating emotional, poetic experiences.
Critics have placed Lee's images in between photography and painting, for they move beyond the documentary function or everyday photography and step into the realm of the abstract.
Beginning Saturday, Lee's large-scale prints n rice paper can be seen at Bellas Artes gallery. Called Beyond Photography, the exhibit runs through June 22. There is no opening reception.
A native of Seoul, South Korea, Lee received a master's degree in photography from New York University in 1991. Graduate school was a period of intense experimentation for Lee, a time in which she struggled to find her own way as an artist, she said during a resent telephone interview from her home in Seoul.
During her second year at the university, Lee experienced a creative epiphany in which she gave herself permission to stray fromm one of the most fundamental aims f photography-that of pristine clarity."I realized that I didn't eed to show every little detail detail of what U photographed. I wanted my work to look more like a painting," Lee said.
The artist decided to print on handmade rice paper for its softness and texture. "You can see the skin of it," she said, referring to the particles of straw that remain in the pulp.
It is the dark room that Lee transforms her 6-by-7 inch negatives into something beyond a photograph. To render the paper sensitive to light, Lee brushes in a Photosensitive emulsion with the wonderful name Liquid Light. Of course, this must be done under a safe light in the darkroom, and since the emulsion is the same color as the paper, it is very difficult to see and coat evenly over a large surface area, Lee said.
Because the artist's hand, rather than a machine, sensitizes the paper, slight differences in contrast occur across the print. Sometimes one can even see the image the brushstrokes where the emulsion was applied. The effect is impossible to reproduce-each print is unique. The paper is soft and the edge irregular, unlike the hard, rectangular edges typically seen with photographs.
Lee's work has been exhibited extensively in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe and korea. In the United States her work has been collected by Metropolitan Museum of art in New york, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, New Orleans Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.
The exhibit at Bellas Artes includes work from four series created from 1997-2002, upon Lee's return to Korea from the United States. Of these, the Ocean series is the most abstract. In these watery images, Lee omitted the horizon to create a flat, two-dimensional impression of water's shapes and patterns. In some, she printed the same image three times and mounted them in vertical triptychs..
Composition is yet another area in which Lee has made her own rules. Many photographers compose their images following the conventional "rule of thirds", the idea that a pleasing composition is obtained when the subject appears to divide the frame into three parts, both horizontally and vertically.
However, Lee's images are often precisely symmetrical in their composition, for this viewer creating an unsettling effect. In the Ocean series, for example, a rope or strip of concrete slices vertically across the image, dividing the composition into equal halves,. And in an image of a desert landscape in Utah, Lee composed the photograph with a crow sitting in the precise center of the frame.
Lee said that symmetry is not necessarily an Asian aesthetic value-it is simply the way she views the world. "I want to keep the image simple and totally balanced," she said.
In the Pagoda series, Lee formed a diptych by attaching the image of the stepped form of the upper part of a pagoda to its own mirror images, creating a mysterious, diamondshaped object that floats in midair.
The artist's On Road series consists of scenes from her travels through remote areas of Korea and abroad, all framed by a thick black border that calls to mind a single frame of motion picture film. The series includes shots of barren fields and or abandoned street corners in deserted villages, as well as haunting shots of trees and buildings.
Her most recent Buddha series continues the framing device with photographs of ancient, worn Buddha statues in Thailand and Cambodia.
"There is a strong feeling of time passing" in these shrines, Lee said "But even though the figure is destroyed, the spirit is still there."
Several critics have compared Lee's work to that of the pictorialist photographers of the late-19th century.
Those early practitioners of photography strove to demonstrate that photography had a legitimate place in the family of fine arts. Like Lee, they experimented with brushed emulsions, exotic papers and soft focus to make their prints look like paintins.
More than 100 years later, with photography widely accepted as fine art, Lee is free of the ideological motives of her pictorialist predecessors. In other words, she doesn't have to prove that her photographs belong in an art gallery.
Instead, Lee's work seems to spring purely from her own creative impulses. Interestingly, those impulses are leading lee to create work that according to some critics, including Jae-Ryung Roe, director of the Kukje Gallery in Seoul, is completely unique within current practices among photographers.
"When I photograph something, I view it through my heart, not my head", lee said.
Take a picture, you need very good instinct."