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(Yonhap Interview) Intimate portrait of a mind echoes through analogue photography

2018/03/12 17:34

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- Jungjin Lee often asks herself if she is really a photographer.

The 56-year-old artist, after all, doesn't care much about fancy new lenses or state-of-the-art technology. Even a tripod feels mostly unnecessary to her. She says she uses a camera as a mere tool to express her feelings in the best way possible, not to document beautiful scenery or capture fascinating moments.

"I've been working on photography for a long time, but I haven't really paid attention to what other photographers are up to. Honestly, I am not very interested in photography per se. ... I use my camera because it is the best medium for my work," Lee said during an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday.

This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "American Desert I 91-23." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "American Desert I 91-23." (Yonhap)

Artist Jungjin Lee is known for her decadeslong projects that blur the line between fine art and photography, or rather artistically combine the two different genres. Interestingly, she said it wasn't her intention to do so in the first place. Doing what she wanted to do has naturally led her to be where she is now, she said.

"I realized photography could symbolically reflect the state of my mind when painting couldn't. I was just so sure of (photography) being my thing," she said.

Although she lives and works in New York, she is currently in Seoul for her solo exhibition titled "Jungjin Lee: Echo" at the Gwacheon branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). The exhibition, co-organized with Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, arrived in South Korea after three tours in European museums.

This image provided by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows artist Jungjin Lee. (Yonhap) This image provided by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows artist Jungjin Lee. (Yonhap)

This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Wind 07-84." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Wind 07-84." (Yonhap)

On display are 70 artworks from her analogue print series, including "American Desert," "On Road," "Things" and "Wind," which she has worked on for almost two decades. A documentary showing her analogue printing process is also available at the museum.

Her '90s desert series, in particular, still resonates with the artist's inner self, she said.

"While out there, I felt everything I had known, accomplished and experienced was being dismantled. I liked those feelings that the place gave me. There was energy in nothingness which sent me to where I began."

  

This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "American Desert I 92-17." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "American Desert I 92-17." (Yonhap)

Through the lens, a tree in the barren land wasn't a mere tree, but an important subject that captured her feelings. The freedom she felt there encouraged her to more actively engage in various technical experiments, including using hand-made mulberry paper -- known as "hanji" in Korean -- to print her work.

To deliver the infinity of the vast wilderness, she didn't put her work in a frame.

"I thought framing would make it impossible to describe the desert's infinite ambience," she said, adding that the hanji's jagged, irregular lines and edges blurred the distinction between what was inside and outside the frame, thereby expanding a feeling of connection.

This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Pagoda 98-19." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Pagoda 98-19." (Yonhap)

Having earned a bachelor's degree in ceramics at Seoul's Hongik University and then a master's in photography at New York University, she received international recognition when she was invited to join the project "This Place" aimed at looking into the intricate situation in Israel and the West Bank through the works of 12 globally acclaimed photographers.

"It was such an irony that people were consoled by my metaphorical photo works, for which I took a lot of pains to create," she said of her first commissioned work.

With regard to her latest exhibition, she compared showing her work from the past to sharing an old journal.

"Some of my works in this exhibition had been locked up in my storage for almost 15 years. They are like an old diary you rarely take out to read again. I am very happy that people can connect with my very personal works. I guess it is the power of art."

   The exhibition runs through July 1.

This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Wind 07-60." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Jungjin Lee and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) shows "Wind 07-60." (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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