The Korea Herald


Ordinary things become centerpieces

Photographer Lee Jung-jin holds a solo exhibition in Seoul showcasing images of ordinary objects printed on mulberry paper

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Jan. 23, 2014 - 19:58

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Artist Lee Jung-jin poses in front of one of her photographs at Shinsegae Gallery in Seoul. (Ha Sang-cheol/Shinsegae Gallery) Artist Lee Jung-jin poses in front of one of her photographs at Shinsegae Gallery in Seoul. (Ha Sang-cheol/Shinsegae Gallery)

Photographer Lee Jung-jin wanted to cast off fixed concepts about her art discipline. Instead of using photosensitized paper, she tried different printing materials to capture certain images which have inspired her. After experimenting with diverse materials such as fabric, printed paper and even toilet paper, she found the right image on a piece of mulberry paper.

“Coincidentally the mulberry paper and the image created a synergy. It even looked like a painting,” she said at Shinsegae Gallery in Seoul on Tuesday. Lee is holding a solo exhibition at the gallery for the first time in nine years.

She has been creating copies of her work using mulberry paper for more than 20 years. Her series of works portraying American deserts, windy landscapes, pagodas and, more recently, ordinary objects have been hailed for their unique qualities. She highlights the physical characteristics she found in desert flora, the rough textures of stone pagodas and the layers of time in ordinary objects through using the Korean mulberry paper.

The printing procedure resembles that of a painting. She hand-coats the surface of the mulberry paper with photo emulsion ― the hardest part of the job. She then projects images using an enlarger onto the prepared surface. The labor-intensive process is shown through the residue of brush strokes left on some of her photos.

The unique printing technique helped set her work apart from typical modern photographic images. It also earned her global fame: Prominent art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, possess her works in their collections. 

from top: “THING 04-21”, from top: “THING 04-21”, "THING 03-04”, "THING 04-29” (Shinsegae Gallery)

Her photos feature the soft irregular edges of the mulberry paper instead of the sharp, rectangular edges usually associated with photographs.

Lee, however, said the practice earned her the nickname “mulberry paper artist,” which follows her wherever she goes.

“I think I have done it too long. I don’t want my photos to be defined by materials used. It’s just a visual poem.”

Her solo exhibition, which comes nine years after her last showcase in Seoul, displays black-and-white photographs of ordinary objects. The artist attaches great meaning to each of the objects, ranging from a pair of scissors, a spoon and a ceramic vase to a wooden chair frame. The artist currently lives and works in New York.

“I was into meditation when I started the ‘Thing’ series. One day, I finished my meditation in my studio and got up and looked at the old earthenware vase that could’ve been sitting there for more than five years. And suddenly I felt like the vase was talking to me. That moment, I thought the vase was not a container anymore, but a universe,” she explained.

The objects in her photos look surreal as their shape and physical features are the only emphasized characteristics. Shadows and background images were removed by digital editing so there is no way to tell the objects’ size and distance from the photographer when they were photographed.

Lee said she places an object in her room and observes it for months before looking at it through the viewfinder, as part of her training to observe things in different ways.

“I wanted to strip off material qualities of objects and focus on the moment when its energy began to emanate and harmonize with its surrounding energy,” she said.

The exhibition continues through Feb. 16 at Shinsegae Gallery on the 12th floor of the Shinsegae Department Store in Sogong-ro, Jungu, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 310-1921~4.

By Lee Woo-young (