"When things dream", Jungjin Lee's Photography
by Youngjune Lee
When things dream is the title of a short review which Tristan Zara wrote for an album of Man Ray's photographs, which contains the following passage.
"Things to eat, touch or crush, things to attach to the skin or to the eye, things to press, lick, break or grind, things to deceive, run away from, or respect, things that are cold, hot, female or male, things of night or day to suck up most of our life through the sweat pores."
The passage would befit Jungjin Lee's photography better than anything else, when we discuss her photo works. Perhaps Tristan Zara might have written it for Jungjin Lee's photography. What on earth does it mean when we say things are dreaming? How can a thing without personality dream? It is only possible when we take our eyes away from routinism, that is to say, when we give up the common sense and the daily usage about the thing that binds it. At this time, it is not the thing itself that dreams. Our consciousness that has lost the ability to dream falls into the new world of dreams. Or else, although we believe we are looking at the thing, it means the moment when the thing watches us through the gaze on the contrary.
Since we are always watched by the things that surround us, perhaps, we habitually tend to treat the things being lifeless for fear of our being watched languidly and unilaterally. Thus we recognize things for their usages, attributes or categories. Our daily living is insipid, since we have stripped the things of the possibility to dream.
What a photographer is supposed to do is to remove such routinism and common sense that bind things. In that sense, Jungjin Lee has been successful in her duty. She observe things and momentarily turns them useless. Now all they can do is to move into the frame of a photograph and to play around with fun. The photographer ask them to play in whatever way they wish. Things in Jungjin Lee's photos look as if emanating a mysterious aura because they are enjoying themselves in there. They play the games of sensibility and of present existence without hesitation. They play so heartily that a log are no longer a log and a sheaf of straw stops being a sheaf of straw. A pagoda is no longer a pagoda there. They all changed themselves to something abstract. A couple of duplicated pagodas have been turned around, attached to each other and transformed into something like a balloon that has lost its weight of stones and its meaning in tradition.
Of course, the weight of the language called photography that conveys it has also gone. For she printed the images twice or thrice. Besides, she does not follow the orthodoxy of the straight photography that has been treated as the essence of modern photography since Afred Stiglitz took "the Steerage" in 1906, or the general principles of the elders and the seniors of the photography arena that the tones should be revived with the maximum delicacy and correctness.
Her dull and hazy tone explains that she has overcome the restrictions of photographic grammar. Power fills the vacancy of the weight that has disappeared. That is the power of the talking images. The power has been created not from simple enlarged, formative transformation of logs, boulders and grassy alleys, but from the moment when the eyesight of the photographer hits the things. At the spots of the collisions we can feel the tight tension.
In this way she reaches a very interesting situation such that the objects are concrete substances but the resulting images are abstract. In general, abstract paintings do not contain concrete things, while things in Jungjin Lee's photography maintain their concrete shapes, but the overall picture looks abstract, leading it to an interesting and rare state.
If someone tries to label her photos for having been 'manipulated' in an old-fashoned, unrefined way, I would like to ask him or her, most of all, to pay attention to the fact that all of Lee's photo works begin with the vivid capture of the scenes in front of the camera lens. Also It is the point where painting and photography are separated. Compared to painting, the advantage of photography is that a maximum of abstraction or surrealism has been contained in the images that were 'photographed.' For this world had been abstract and surrealistic originally and we changed in to something concrete and understandable in the name of common sense and routinism. If so, all she has done is nothing but to recover abstract and surrealistic property that things had retained in the past with her unique angle of view. As the process of the recovery was not an easy one, we call her an artist. Otherwise, we would have called her a producer.
Then, how should the spectators appreciate her photos? More than anything else, I would like to ask them never to try to put a bridle on the objects of her photo works again which she took off with hard efforts. She asks us to observe things with a new attitude, shaking off the old way of perception related to the trite sense of original context and the comfort we feel making sure of its existence. If we track down what the original shapes were or what kind of processes were needed to create the images, that would be most against her intention.
Please let's not name the objects looking at her photos. In fact the general public seldom participate in naming the objects, as they are naive. It is primarily the critics who do such unsavory works like this. They freeze down the things that are freely playing around and snobbishly declare that they have caught the essence of the artworks. But they never realize the things sneak away one after another looking for another place to dream a prankish dream.
Jungjin Lee's photography is a kind of litmus paper to test how much we can liberate ourselves. Her photos are a rare experience. Even a collector who keeps some of her works would not frequently experience the moment of tension I mentioned above.