“Encounters” by Minny Lee

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Conversation with Minny Lee

by Paola Núñez Solorio


How did you start with Encounters?

The first image came about due to a class assignment at ICP while I was a student of the One-Year Documentary and Photojournalism Program in 2008. The assignment was to read an article about “Sleep” and to make an image to accompany the article. I had a vivid pre-visualization of what I wanted to photograph: the feeling of falling trees during twilight hours on a rainy day. I liked the results from that exercise but I didn’t continue as I was pursuing documentary photography. In October 2008, I met Italian photographer, Giorgia Fiorio. She encouraged me to continue photographing trees after seeing my tree pictures. Giorgia made me realize that I don’t have to limit my photography to any genres or subject matters. Instead it is important to pursue where my interests lie.


Can you talk a little about your childhood? In particular, can you describe briefly how your childhood is reflected in the project?

I was born during South Korea’s industrialization period. Both of my parents worked and it was hard for them to take care of both my sister and I. They sent me to my paternal grandmother from age 3 to 6. This event changed my life forever. When I reunited with my family, I felt alienated. When I was 7, my family moved to the countryside and that’s when I started interacting with nature. My father built a house on a hill and made beautiful gardens. I looked at the natural settings and observed how things changed over time. Later in my life, I lived in big cities but my affinity towards nature always remained inside of me. When I began the Encounters project, I felt happy to be able to connect with nature again.


Trees are the main subjects of this project. What do you find so appealing about them?

Nature has a lot of elements: trees, flowers, animals, rocks, water, wind, etc. When I began my project, I decided to first concentrate on trees as trees alone is a huge subject. When I started photographing trees, I realized that each tree has its own personality and character just like human beings. I am attracted to those trees with character but I am also attracted to small elements in nature. I am fascinated by how well trees adjust to natural environments. I also think trees express feelings by the shaping of roots, trunks, branches, and leaves.


In your artist statement, you wrote, “I am interested in the coexistence between absence and presence, past and present and dream and reality.” Is this something that you are intentionally looking for? Can you talk a little bit about it?

When I photograph, it is more of natural discovery of these things rather than looking for them intentionally. They coexist without defined lines. We don’t always live in the present and in reality. We constantly go back and forth between the past and present and dream and reality. From the absence of something, I can imagine the presence of something. When I am photographing, I am constantly revisiting different time and place and that makes photographing more interesting.

How important is the final presentations of your images? What kind of methods have you used to present Encounters series?

For me, how I show my images in their final forms is very important. So the thinking process doesn’t stop at shooting or editing but continues to the end of the “life of images.” When presenting my photographs, the viewers’ physical and direct experience with my images is important for me. For formal presentation, I mount the pictures bleeding to the edge. I prefer 40”x50” size in order to overwhelm viewers and make them feel like they are standing in front of real trees. I also presented an installation with prints hanging from the ceiling, moving to and fro due to an electric fan, and sounds of nature that I recorded during different seasons and times. When the viewers entered into the space, I wanted them to feel like they entered into a forest. I feel that photographs can evoke many different senses, not just visual sense.


About the artist

Minny Lee, a native of Seoul, South Korea is a New Jersey-based photographer and book artist. Lee is a 2008 graduate of the International Center of Photography’s one-year certificate program. From 2009 to 2011, Lee attended the Reflexions Masterclass in Europe, a two-year seminar which cultivates fifteen fledgling photographers by mentoring and field projects. Lee is also a candidate for a Master of Arts in Art History degree.

Lee’s photographs were exhibited at ICP’s Education Gallery in 2010 and Pingyao International Photography festival in 2008 among other venues. In December 2010, Lee’s tree pictures were included in the exhibition Giving Trees at 25CPW Gallery along with Magnum photographers’ works to benefit Green World Campaign. In 2010 and 2011, Lee curated an exhibition, Nature Within in two venues that examined photographers’ personal relationships with nature.

Lee’s photographs were published in several books including Fondazione di Venezia: Reflexions Masterclass IW (Italy), Novartis Campus Basel: Reflexions Masterclass IW (Italy), and Mois de la Photo À Paris 2010: Paris Collectionne (France). Her assignment works appeared in Newsday newspaper both in print and online versions. Lee makes hand-made books to showcase her works in more intimate and continuous form.

For further information about Minny Lee, visit: http://www.minnylee.com/

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