JeeYoung Lee: “We take photographs of memorable moments to remember the moment and share it with others.”


South Korean multidisciplinary artist, JeeYoung Lee, adds plastic creativity and theatrical performance to conventional photography, offering excerpts from her heart, her memory, or her dreams.

JeeYoung Lee gained her BFA in visual communication design from Hongik university and MFA in photography from Hongik Graduate University, Seoul, Korea.

Her work has been featured in international magazines and the worldwide media including BBC culture, CNN international, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, France 3 National News and more. She has also collaborated with diverse range of companies from Samsung to Hermes, Tiger Beer, and more.

JeeYoung Lee has been the recipient of multiple artistic awards, including the Sovereign Asian Art Prize Finalists Top 30 (2012, Hong Kong) and the OCI Young Creatives Award (2013, South Korea). While she has created installations in major institutions all around the world, from San Francisco to Australia via Spain and Singapore, her photographs can be found in international public spaces, such as the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, as well as in private collections around the world.

Abdullah Ezik talked with JeeYoung Lee, who met with art lovers in Turkey as part of the 212 Photography Istanbul festival, about her photography works, and her photo series.

You are meeting art lovers in Turkey through 212 Photography Istanbul festival. How would you introduce yourself to the audience in Turkey?

Hello Istanbul! I am an artist based in Seoul who uses photography and installation as my main media. As you can see my experience, memories, feelings, and situations are my inspiration. Stage of Mind is a series that stems from my personal experiences reinterpreted into an imaginary scene on a stage. 

As a branch of art, photography has become even more meaningful for everyone, especially under pandemic conditions. I think this situation affected many artists in different ways. What would you say about the relationship between pandemic and photography, and your approach to photography as an artist?

I use photography as a medium of my work. The installations are not permanent, thus the photos I take are the final results. Photography invites the audience to create a unique narrative. We take photographs of memorable moments to remember the moment and share it with others. What I try to create through my work stays true to the function of photography in this sense. 

COVID situation led me to plan new projects. These works have not been published yet. To briefly disclose, I produced a new monochrome series of photographs based on the feelings that I felt under the situation.

As an artist who deals with many different disciplines, it can be noticed immediately that you construct your photographs with great patience and care. With what kind of preparation does the process leading to a photograph come to life for you?

When I set on a certain subject or idea I create a rough sketch and spend time deciding the details. I test different materials to recreate what I envisioned and search reference images and narrow down on the color scheme, etc. In my studio, there is a wooden stage that is adjustable in terms of size. I fix the stage walls, paint the walls, make the objects, and place them where they are needed. It depends on the project, but each stage takes approximately two months to complete. Only then can I take photographs. I sit in as the model in most cases, so my photographs also have the characteristics of a performance. I take multiple photographs from different angles but only one is chosen as the final product. Once this is over, the stage is completely destroyed.

Where is the viewer in a photo? Should the viewer dive deeper into a photograph with you or should they evaluate the artwork in question with an outside eye?

My inspirations and stories are deeply personal, so perhaps the audience will not be able to pick up on the very experience the photographs are based on. Instead, I want the audience to reinterpret what they see based on their own experience. I hope each and everyone finds the story of their own and reminiscences a moment in their own lives through my photographs. 

The colors you prefer and the color components in your palette are quite remarkable. What do colors mean to you? Why do we encounter such a colorful world in your photographs?

Color is undeniably an important component in my work. It expresses my feelings, emotions and is a very useful tool to create the ambiance that I want. Symbols connected to color play a big role in my creative process as well. 

We can say that your photos drag us into a dream atmosphere. This situation also makes us think that each photograph contains a special story and narrative within itself. What are the sub-texts, works, and references that you refer to for your photographs, both locally and internationally?

I choose subjects that are closely related to my personal experience. My childhood memories, dreams, relationships, life as an artist, living in Korea, literature, and powerful narratives are all potential subjects. These elements are carefully patched together into a metaphor in my photographs.

The alternative worlds you create cause a catharsis/reaction in the audience against social pressure, mass fatigue and anger. How does this reflect on your photography production?

The long and grueling time I spend hand-creating all the components of the stage is like meditation for me. As I mentioned before, all the stages are destroyed immediately after the final photograph is selected. I feel that this is the moment of transcendence. It is a ritual that sends the memory and experience that inspired the photograph into the past. The entire process of creating is self-analysis and observation. 

JeeYoung Lee

The images we encounter in your photographs leave us face to face with a big theater stage. The details/references we see in this scene are quite provocative and emotional. So, how are these scenes set up until the photo is taken, and what kind of effort is put into the scene?

For this question, please make references from the answer of 3 too.

As I have mentioned before, my internal landscape, imagination, and emotions are melded into my work. Every element, from color selection to objects incorporated in the set, is symbolized within a system based on my philosophy. I spend a long time thinking of their correlation and combination. Every small object on the stage is placed deliberately, down to the very minute detail.

As a final question, what awaits us on your behalf, both in Turkey and on international platforms in the future?

I will be displaying my work at Scope Miami Beach (USA) in November 2021. You will find my latest release, the monochrome series, Into The Mist at the Echo Fine Art booth. In March 2022, I will be participating in a group exhibition at Museum DAH in Busan, South Korea. I have a show in France and the UK as well in 2022.

I am also a speaker at Adobe Max 2021 so tune in if you are interested! 

It has been a pleasure to meet Turkish audiences for the first time through 212 Photography Istanbul, and I hope to meet you again in Turkey soon!