Fine Art Photography Daily

South Korea Week: Sunmin Lee: Women’s House


©Sunmin Lee, at Jayoon’s place from Woman’s House 1, 1999

Throughout human civilization, the role of women in society and the issues related to women’s livelihood are, without a doubt, linked to patriarchy. One of the factors that have hindered women’s life in any era is derived from the male-dominated social structures. There is much to be said on the construction of a woman’s consciousness that is heavily influenced by the societal norms of unequal gender roles.

Most women give up their independent lives due to physical and societal inequalities such as housework and child-rearing, particularly as they get married and become a member of a family. Given this societal norm, a life where women are completely independent and removed from a life away from a male-counter part is deemed an unhappy life.

Since the period of modernization, spotlight on women’s rights issues have increased due to the increase in women’s education and various roles of women in society. Nevertheless, the fundamental idea and perception that a woman has and should have independent rights over one’s own life is still a problem that is yet to be solved across the world.

In South Korea, the large extended family system and patriarchal customs are derived from the country’s agriculture-oriented social structure and Confucianism mindset. These aspects contribute to women’s inequality and oppression. Certainly, things have improved for women compared to the past; there is greater diversity of voices and perspectives on topics beyond women’s rights that surround our societal awareness.

It’s at this junction where I came to pay attention to the work of Sunmin Lee, one of Korea’s leading female photographers who documents women’s lives. Sunmin Lee’s work materializes the position of women inside and outside the family and their social perception from a continuous, multi-faceted perspective. The artist’s series begins with a series of topics ranging from the author’s own motherhood, her family identity, the positioning of women in the Korean family, to the life of family members within the patriarchal system, the lives of foreign women who migrated to Korean society, and the struggles that her father’s generation lived through. The scope of her work also incorporates the lives of the MZ generation and by doing so, she hopes to elevate her main conceptual area of women’s livelihood. In some ways, Sunmin Lee’s core subject matter extends from “woman” to “human”.

Sunmin Lee was born in 1968 and raised in Seoul, South Korea. She received her B.A. in Chinese Literature at Seongshin Women’s University, as well as an M.F.A. in Photography at Hongik University — both located in Korea. She has been living and working in Seoul for 30 years. Her earlier works are on the topic of motherhood, family identity, and patriarchy. Then, she started tackling concepts around generational changes and immigration. Starting from her own experiences as a mother, the idea of a patriarchal family structure and the different desires projected through multiple generations of her family have been the backbone of Lee’s photography. Her most recent work dissects the lives of a particular family unit with the photos’ backdrop being set in an old manufacturing studio in an area called ‘Euljiro Metal Manufacturing District’.

Sunmin Lee has over 10 solo exhibitions, some of them being: <Woman’s House 1,2> , , , , , . She was also invited to a handful of both international and national photography festivals such as “Photoville International Festival-Korean Documentary, New York”, “Seoul Photo Festival, Seoul Korea”, “Festival of Photography in Museum, Daejeon, Korea”, “Photoquai Biennale, Paris, France”, “Donggang International Photo festival, Yeongwol, Korea”, “Lianzhou International Photo Festival, China”. She participated in the Seoul residency program at the Seoul Arts Healing Hub and published and . Some of her works are housed in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. Her series was published and was a finalist for the 3rd KT&G award.

Follow Sunmin Lee on Instagram: @sunmin.lee.733076

“The key lies in finding out conditions for women to stand as the subject.
The term “subject” literally means “for one to become the master of his or her life.” The briefest definition of subject is one who does not rely on others’ judgement or actions, one who exercises his or her rights as a decision maker, and one who takes responsibility for his or her actions. Anyone who is level headed in their actions and sensible of elemental norms and rules is qualified to live as the subject. Women, however, have lived in the order of patriarchal society, deprived of their rights as the subject. Deriving from the rigid logic of survival required by primitive communities, this order has been gradually reinforced and ultimately settled as a structure. Women have lived not as the subject but as assistants of the subject or those subordinate to the subject. Some women may feel easy and comfortable when living such a life. There are those who have chosen to live with men who possess potent power or enormous wealth, forgetting that they are the subject. There is no reason to blame them as they are making their own decision as the subject. Any decision can be made by the subject, not by others. It is a serious contradiction and a form of self-deception to make a decision as the subject to give
up living as the subject. Accordingly, conditions for women’s subjective life can be secured in the two following ways.”
-From The Possibility of Women’s Subjective life by Pyongjong Park, Professor of Photography at Chung Ang University/Photo Criticism

2. Á¾¿øÀ̀³×££1 (at Jong-won's place££1), 80¡¿80§¯, digital c-print, 1999

©Sunmin Lee, at Jongwon’s place from woman’s House 1, 1999

3 (2)

©Sumin Lee, at Geumhee’s place#1 from Woman’s House 1, 1999


©Sunmin Lee, at Donguk’s place from Woman’s House 1, 1999

 Woman’s House I 1998-2004

I look into my room.
Something feels somewhat unfamiliar.
I close my eyes and ask myself, “Where am I?” November 30, 1996…
It’s my wedding day. It was a very cold day and it snowed heavily. After that day, I had to
face my new identity, institutions, and cultures. I defined this unfamiliar situation a 29-year-
old woman (who has never left the place where she was born and raised) faces as a
psychological migration. I decided to visit my friends’ living rooms and observe aspects of
each of them.
-Taking photographs of Jayun and my self-portraits. Samsung Apt, Pyeongchang-dong, June, 1999” –from Sunmin Lee aritist statement

The Woman’s House 1 series by Sunmin Lee embodies the artist’s uncertainty around her own identity and motherhood as a newly-wed in her early 30s. In this series, the artist is a full-time housewife as she gets married. The life of a housewife that she portrays in her work shows that she is sacrificing her independent life to be a caretaker for her husband and children. The labor and devotion of a housewife is a significant and valuable trait in maintaining prosperity and wellbeing for a family, the smallest unit of a group in society. Nevertheless, housewives experience major confusion around their identity and role in the family, particularly as they experience turbulent emotions such as boredom, emptiness, and isolation from everyday life. In the form of ordinary daily life at home, the artist begins by revealing questions about the identity of young mothers in their early 30s, including the artist herself and those around her.

Meeting with artist Sunmin Lee was very memorable for me as a practicing photographer myself. I am well aware that it is difficult to portray an era (particularly of the past) with great sincerity and continuity. Given that Lee was able to pull off this challenging endeavor, I compare her work to a bright moonlight in the night sky. The moon is a celestial body that does not emit light by itself, but it actually reflects the light of the sun. This creates the illusion that the moon is shining on its own. Depending on the relative position of the sun and the earth, the orbiting moon changes shape through our eyes. Lee’s work shows a calm light as the moon revolves every day and it transforms into endless thoughts and reflections on the topic of “people and society”. The characters in the artist’s work are seen as a small unit in society that shines a spotlight on this era.

Sunjoo Lee: How did you get started with photography?

Sunmin Lee: Initially in college, I wanted to study psychology because I was interested in understanding my internal self and the lives of others through psychological traits, but my parents strongly swayed me into majoring in education instead. I realized that education was not my passion. During this time of conflict, I found photography. My interests for photography stemmed from my desire to tell my life story. I came to believe that the expression of my desires is possible through art. After spending much of my college years exploring and immersing myself in various trips and club activities, I became convinced that I wanted to do art. As I started to develop interest in others’ lives, I found a greater urge to tell my own story. Photography was the perfect artistic medium for me to communicate with the world about who I was. After majoring in photography in graduate school, I worked as a freelancer and photographer for travel magazines. I am still actively involved in these positions.

SL: The author’s series, Woman’s House 1 from 1999 shows the artist herself in her everyday appearance as a housewife and her young daughter pushing a walker. What was your motivation and intentions behind this work?

SM: The Woman’s House 1 series started from an urge to bring about a social dialogue. As a newly-wed young housewife in my early 30s, the feeling of alienation and repetition from working around the house motivated me to start this work. My intention for this work was to convey the lives of human subjects in an intimate environment (in this case, their home) where years of social and cultural traces have been accumulated.
I captured my daily life as it was in my thirties: an iron, a baby’s milk bottle, a wall poster for measuring children’s height, and my daughter sitting on a walker. Being a young mother at the time confused my identity. I needed empathy and my own rational process to understand myself. That’s where I went to my friends’ houses with similar lifestyles and started documenting. Over the course of two years, I got comfortable with the identity of motherhood.

5. 이영숙의 집-추석08.6

©Sunmin Lee, Youung-dook Lee’s house-Chuseok,Korean Thanks Giving Day from Woman’s House2, 2004

6. ĀĖžøĀÚĀĮ Áý1-ÁĶŧįĮģ°æ

©Sunmin Lee, Sunja Lee’s house#1 Ancestral rites from Woman’s House2, 2004

7. ĀĖžøĀÚĀĮ Áý3-ÁĶŧįĮģ°æ

©Sunmin Lee, Sun-ja Lee’s house #3 Ancestral rites from Woan’s House 2, 2004

8. 길례와 정하-두여자

©Sunmin Lee, Kyl-lye and Jungha- two women from Woman’s House 2, 2004

Woman’s House II 2004

They look at different places from the same space and time. Where do their eyes meet? This work asks this question over and over again. My husband’s hometown is Cheongyang, South Chungcheong Province. I will never forget the day when I visited my husband’s home to greeting his family before getting married. I arrived in a small town after passing through several deep valleys. It was just like a little country to me who was born and raised in Seoul. I thought that I must have married into the very remote countryside. Since then, I continued to visit my husband’s home three or four times a year with my babies in their car seats, soothing them as I endured traffic jams for six or seven hours. During the Chuseok holiday almost seven years after getting married, I loaded my trunk with things to use at my husband’s home with my children, lighting equipment, and cameras. This was the start of the work process for Woman’s House II. On a day during Chuseok holiday. October 2004 from Sunmin Lee artist statement


“Woman’s House II, Youngsook Lee’s House—Chuseok is a showcase of a whole family who throngs together to take a break on Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving Day. The woman who is the family’s daughter-in-law is nowhere to be seen; she is probably working somewhere in the house. Her absence thus serves as a symbol. Judging by this scene, this is presumably a middle-class family. The head of the household may be her generous, benign father-in-law and her husband may be a good man. The absence of the daughter-in-law who has to work during the holiday seems to make everyone feel inconvenienced. The daughter-in-law, meanwhile, appears daunted in the family with its strict patriarchal order.

This aspect is well represented in Woman’s House II, Sunja Lee’s House ♯1—Ancestral Rites The current trend witnesses strict ancestral rites gradually disappearing from contemporary society, but they still remain as a universal custom of our time. Women are nothing but onlookers in the age-old custom in which only men are allowed to bow to their ancestors. Pictures hung above the door featuring the 100th day or first birthday of descendants on the floor are symbols wishing for the clan’s longevity. If the descendants are well-to-do, they can arrange any type of memorial service they want for their ancestors. However, women who are not allowed to enter the room where rites are being held are thoroughly alienated from the ceremony. A stiff expression is on the face of a middle-aged woman who seems to be the oldest daughter-in-law as she diverts her eyes from the scene of bowing to the family’s ancestors. This seems to reflect women’s position toward rituals that are most important in maintaining patriarchy. Given her position in the family, she arranged the rite’s table but could not participate in the ceremony. She is not a subjective human but a family’s daughter-in-law. She is not allowed to live a subjective life. She has to mind her p’s and q’s for a few days, which gives her a hard time.”
-from The Possibility of Women’s Subjective Life by Pyongjong Park, Professor of Phtography at Chung Ang Univrsity/ Photo critic


SL: Your Woman’s House 2 series shows a traditional Korean family. Could you explain more about this work?

SM: While Woman’s House I questioned the identity of young mothers in their early 30s, Woman’s House II which I had worked on since 2004 casts a more extensive light on Korea’s patriarchal culture and its aspects including ancestral rites and special holidays in which more than three generations of descendants flock home. This work features scenes in which members from a large family come together, share a meal, and perform an ancestral rite during the holiday season when three generations of family members—my parents’ generation, my brother and sister’s generation, and my children’s generation—throng together. Their mental state is metaphorized through the direction and intersection of their eyes. As a photographer who had just married into a solid Confucian patriarchal family system, I intended to make observations and synchronically inquire into the question “What is family?” in Uiseong, Yangyang, and Cheongyang where the patriarchal family system is still very much in place.

SL: The Woman’s House 2 depicts a typical Korean family of three-generations gathered on holidays such as Chuseok or Lunar New Year. Did you have any difficulties in finding your subjects?

SM: One of the toughest things of being a photographer (aside from the photography portion itself) is recruiting and finding subjects for any portrait or human-centered projects. Especially in the case of my work, it is difficult to get people on-board with the idea of showcasing their private lives, among other family members in their natural, everyday mannerisms only revealed in the comfort of their homes. I’m sure most people are uncomfortable at the idea of getting photographed in their personal spaces. Because of that, I leaned on my close acquaintances.

Woman’s House 2 series shows a rare scene of Korean family life and traditional patriarchal dynamics that is highlighted during Korean traditional holidays. Family members of three or more generations gather on Korean holidays such as Chuseok and Lunar New Year to perform traditional events like ancestral rites. This work reveals the inequality between the family hierarchy and the position of women within the old patriarchal structure of Korea. In order to carry out the filming, I had to receive permission from the male members of the family.

In picking the backdrop, I recruited families in traditional homes based in rural Korea over those living in metropolitan Seoul. I also acknowledge that all the filming equipment and installation of lighting in a small, private home was not ideal for the family members who were actually celebrating their holidays and enjoying time with their families. Even in those situations, many senior subjects were very understanding; I am grateful for their cooperation.

9. 최명순의 집-추석

©Sunmin Lee, Myungsun Choi’s house-Chuseok from Dogye Project, 2006

10. 신이종의 집1-성묘

©Sunmin Lee, Lsong Shin’s house#1 visiting the Ancestral Grave from Dogye Project, 2005

11. 남진선의 집1-벌초

©Sunmin Lee, Jinsun Nam’s house#1-Weeding the Ancestral Grave from Dogye Project, 2005

Dogye Project 2005-2007

I once again ask the question, “What is family?” while looking at family photographs in a display cupboard, a gray-haired old man standing in front of his mother’s grave, and their rooms which time filters into, feeling solidarity with them. Dogye, which I visited again to capture scenes of people visiting their ancestral graves and weeding them, was still a mining town enwrapped with loneliness. Family members who flock there during Chuseok visit the graves of their ancestors which are weeded in advance in a remote mountain in Gwangwon Province with many mountains. A grandmother’s hand stroking her husband’s grave and a son’s act of weeding his father’s grave are imbued with the presence of death that is as vivid as that of life. It was a day during the Chuseok holidays when the autumn sunlight was particularly dazzling.

At the Dogye cemetery. Chuseok on September 18, 2005

Dogye was a mining city which led the modernization of Korea beginning in the 1960s. It is now a city in decline with only one mine currently in operation, with most of its residents being those who became mine workers to follow in their father’s footsteps. I have simultaneously pursued holiday scenes in which family members of second and third generations flock together, scenes of people visiting their ancestral graves and weeding around a grave against the backdrop of Gangwon-do’s beautiful mountains, and mining scenes. What I observed are diverse aspects of Dogye residents’ everyday life, such as taking a commemorative photograph as a large family, an old couple in a small room which was perhaps once boisterous with many family members, visiting ancestral graves to weed around them, and Gyeongdong Mining Office which is the last mine in Dogye.

I had an encounter that greatly shook up my awareness while I was carrying out my project. I took photographs of an older woman who came to Dogye cemetery to remove the weeds from around her husband’s grave with her family. The woman who appears to be over 80 posed for a picture with her husband’s grave in the background. Any force of the patriarchal system that overflows in the series Woman’s House could not be sensed in her hand as she stroked the grave, nor in her appearance as she gazed at the camera while leaning on her cane. This old woman who was infirm—I didn’t know if she was a man or a woman at first—seemed to lead us to erase any vertical classification of the patriarchal system of man and woman and announce the horizontal proposition of life and death. Her family members stand in line piously behind the grave as if proving the solidarity between life and death. For me as a photographer who had concentrated on motherhood identity and the patriarchal family structure, the location on this day made me question the nature of death that overwhelmed the system and structure and the nature of solidarity that embraced even death. This question also called for me to explore both the interior and exterior of the family structure and was the motivating power for Mine Workers in Dogye (2007) featuring miners in their workplace.   from Sunmin Lee artist statement

12. ĵş³² ĊÂĈòµż, Taepyongdong, Seongnam city, 90Ħż125cm, digital c-print, 2012-1

©Sunmin Lee, Taepyongdong, Seongnam City from Translocating Women, 2012

13 영세 호앙1-그녀의 소지품, Yeongse Hoang1-her belongings, 120×180cm, digital c-print, 2012-1

©Sunmin Lee, Yeongse Hoang #1-her beloingings from Translocating Women, 2012

14. 康技 龋居2, Yeongse Hoang2, 120】180cm, digital c- print, 2012-1

©Sunmin Lee, Yongse Hoang#2, Seongnam City from Translocating Women, 2012

15. 영세 호앙3-이사

©Sunmin Lee, Yeongse Hoang#3-Moving, from Translocating Women, 2013

Translocating Women 2011-2013

A protagonist who searches for treasure, main characters struggling to believe that their story would have a happy ending, the good and the bad, a duel, a forked road and a decisive choice, a dragon belching out fire… These elements have been numerously employed and continue to be handed down in the works of great writers and old tales.

On a day in 2011 when I first met an 18-year-old girl named Hoang in Taepyeong-dong, Seongnam, she showed me her belongings which she had brought from Cambodia. I was amazed at the fact that she carried such a small number of possessions considering how she ventured off to get married on another continent. Her husband’s telephone number, the only one she knew, was clearly written on her airplane ticket. Each number seemed to convey her desperate mind.

My first meeting with Hoang in Taepyeong-dong, Seongnam. May 12, 2012” -from artist statement

SL: It seems like Translocating Women is an extension of your previous work from Women’s House 1 and 2 to Twins 1 and 2, which all cast a spotlight on women’s position and role in society. Please tell us your motivation behind this series and the preparation process, as well as the story behind the migrant women in your work.

SM: Translocating Women portrays young Southeast Asian girls from different classes, cultures, nationalities, and generations. Apart from their physical commonalities, individually, they are all unique. My motivation for this work started when I met an 18-year-old girl who came to Korea through an international marriage from Cambodia. I built sympathy around these girls and their stories after witnessing the 18-year-old make a tough decision to migrate alone across borders. She dealt with major psychological fallouts from the move along with having to adjust to a new society, driven by deep patriarchal roots. I felt even more moved because these girls were about the same as my daughter at the time. When I moved to Cambodia for a year, I ended up building a close relationship with three other girls of similar experiences.

One of the most memorable moments was when a girl named Hoang took photos of her belongings when she left Cambodia. I was hoping to see Cambodian culture, but her documentation of simple, everyday belongings surprised me. The images consisted of a passport, a plane ticket, three or four dollar bills, and a Cambodian skirt. The plane ticket had her husband’s phone number written on it. The phone number was the only source of reassurance for the girl who crossed the border on a plane alone for the first time in her life.

Hoang recounted that when she arrived at the airport in Korea for the first time, her phone didn’t connect and she ended up breaking down in tears because she wasn’t able to reach her husband. Thankfully, someone saw her in despair and let her borrow their phone. She was able to connect with him eventually.

I remember going to capture Hoang’s move-in day, but her son wasn’t feeling well and we eventually had to shut down filming to take care of him. Even though Hoang and I are 30 years apart in age, we connected through a sense of maternal solidarity after this day.

After experiencing this visceral moment, I was reminded of my purpose to start this work on young women who had immigrated from different countries. I clearly realized that the common denominator of is a global and universal existence beyond just the families of my friends and myself in the previous Women’s House series.

SL: I think our society needs greater attention on immigrant women. Do you have a message to send to our society through this work?And, do you have any plans to expand on this work in the future?

SM: Women are deemed weak in the patriarchal system. Our commonality as women is that we can give birth and share the experience of motherhood. Filming the private lives of women who immigrated to Korea through marriage from Southeast Asia was difficult. It was more painful than my previous work in filming women from Korean families. As I spent a lot of time with the Southeast Asian ladies who came from completely different cultures and languages, I gradually realized that motherhood was the only saving grace that kept them persisting in a world that minimizes their existence. I think through this work, I have changed my approach towards photography as an expression of myself to photography as a way to listen.

I finally came to peace with the various societal topics I had been investigating for over 20 years and entered a new conceptual series that focuses on individual portraits spanning several age generations and gender differences. This new concept is what I am currently working on now in the Euljiro Metal Manufacturing District studio in Seoul. I took photographs of elderly men and the MZ generation, and now, I am working with middle-aged manufacturers of my generation in Euljiro. Euljiro embodies the landscape of old Seoul where much of industrialization and manufacturing took place. Documenting the physical spaces that humans exist in are a different way to tackle the multifaceted nature of human’s lives. Along with Translocating Women, Migration is another piece that I am working on, which focuses on the male migrant workers from Sri Lanka who entered Korea. The background of this work is the Tongyeong Sea.

17. ÇöÁ€°ú ÁöÀÎ

©Sunmin Lee, Hyunjung and Ji-in from Twins 1, 2009

18. »َ؟±°ْ ار¼ض

©Sunmin Lee, Sangyeop and Hansol from Twins 2, 2009

19. 태정과 선호

© Sunmin Lee, Taejung and Seonho from Twins 2, 2009

20. 수정과 지영

©Sunmin Lee, Sujeong and Jiyeong from Twins 2, 2008

Twins I 2005-2006

I suddenly look in my child’s room. My desire, similar to myself, is breathing in this room. I serenely gaze around the room again with calm eyes. My first daughter entered elementary school in 2005. I often participated in parent gatherings with my daughter’s five-year-old brother Sungwoo and would associate myself with them. Most of the conversations we had were all about our trifling everyday lives such as our daughters’ academic schedule, their clothes, their pet dogs, and the inside of their rooms. I could grasp each mother’s preferences through the clothes her daughter wore and read her desire through the room her child lived in. I took photographs of a mother and daughter wearing a couple outfit in the daughter’s room with a lace curtain and the daughter’s things.

Starting the work of photographing for Twins. August 6, 2005

Twins II 2007-2011

It was late night when everyone fell asleep. I thought about how I would like to go to Jirisan mountain with my daughter who was 11 years old at the time. It was a place that I often visited when I was young. I want to look out over the majestic scenery of nature I had faced in my 20s with an overflowing heart. Having retreated from my desire that was reflected onto my child’s room and daily routines, I wanted to breathe fresh air together with her. A new journey for Twins II began in this way.
In the middle of conceiving Twins II. October 18, 2007”
-from artist statement

Women’s Alter Egos

A woman who consciously or unconsciously realizes her condition in which it is hard to live a subjective life rather accepts it as her destiny. A woman who cannot live her own life often aspires to live through her children, accepting her fate with resignation. This is by nature a compensation mentality. To be precise, however, it is the struggle of her desperate self to confirm her identity through her children. What should we call a man’s life which is not his or her own? A child who lives out their mother’s life is like her alter ego. The Twins series is a work which displays the weird lives of such women.” –from The Possibility of Women’s Subjective life by Pyongjong Park; Professor of photography at Chung Ang University / photo Criticism

SL: After your Woman’s House series 1 and 2, you worked on Twins 1 and 2. What was your motivation for those two works?

SM: I executed portraits of a mother and a daughter over a period of two years in the Bundang area where I lived after completing my solo show Woman’s House II. Twins I (2006), a work to shed a light on the relationship and desires of a mother on her daughter, is a photograph featuring a girl between the ages of 6 and 11 whose identity is not yet molded. She is pictured with her mother against the backdrop of the young girl’s room in Bundang, a less standardized new town for the middle class. I launched this work after being inspired by the new relationships I had made with other school parents after my daughter (who was nine months old when I did Woman’s House) entered elementary school. The word “twins” in the title does not refer to a physical set of twins, but to psychological twins in which a mother’s desire is reflected onto her daughter. Twins I features the girl in a floral pattern dress and a tutu, a lacy curtain and chandelier, books in a bookshelf, dolls, and shoes while capturing her mother or a woman’s desire reflected onto the child and her room. Women as mothers and daughter-in-laws who were weak in the patriarchal system radiate a rather powerful, subjective energy in the work space of Twins I. I paid close attention to the signs of desire as I examined the mother and daughter who were psychological twins and the child’s room using bright lighting and a large format camera. My daughter Jayun is nine years old while I am 38.

SL: In the Twins series, the focus of the work seems to be about the perspectives drawn from a father and son. Your previous work was mostly about the lives of women and their role in society, but this seems to place light on men’s lives. What type of societal discussion are you meaning to make light of?

SM: I turned my attention to the father and son in the Twins series produced in 2008, starting a new itinerary while transferring the series’ spatial background to mountains, fields, and vast natural scenes from home. Twins produced in 2011 features the father and son standing on the seaside with their bikes on the car, the mother and daughter on a rocky mountain as the day breaks, and the father and son posing with guitars around a bonfire. Twins II (2011) features journeys the parents shared with their children based on how they enjoyed nature and elegant things when they were in their 20s. I called to mind the parents’ memories of their youth, changing locations to mountains and seas across the nation over the course of four years. I then described their desire to pass down their preferences and hobbies to their children by capturing charming scenes in which they spend time together. When my solo show Twins II took place in 2011, my daughter was 14 years old and had entered middle school. My second son in the fourth grade posed for some photographs for the Twins series while on a cycling tour with his father. My photography has been growing with myself and my children in this way.

SL: Lastly, as a photographer, what do you think is the allure of photography?

SM: I’m particularly fascinated by documentary-style photography. It’s fun to capture the traces of old times, and there’s something fresh about capturing things accidentally. Like a gift, there are many serendipity joys that come into my work regardless of my intentions. I find delight when I discover things in photos that our eyes may involuntarily overlook in reality.

Sunjoo Lee is a mixed media photographer based in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee’s extraordinary artistic sensibility that was once portrayed through her voice is now visible through the works portrayed through her camera lens. Her photography focuses on a unique lyrical journey into her personal life. She explores her past, present, and future world in a temporal and spatial perspective.

She received a BA in Music from Ewha Women University, a second BA in Photography from Chung-Ang University (Academy credit bank system), and an MFA in Plastic Art & Photography from Chung-Ang University Graduate School of Photography in Seoul, Korea. In 2019, she was awarded into the 11th cohort for the prestigious artist residency program at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art. Through this residency, she’s currently working on her upcoming series.

Lee’s acclaimed works have been exhibited widely throughout the years in South Korea. Most recently, she had her solo exhibition at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary art, Gwangju Korea. She’s also showcased at Gallery Now, Gallery Gong, Gallery Guha, and more in Seoul, South Korea. Her works are permanently displayed at the Haslla Arts Museum (Gangneung, Korea), and YoungWol Y. Park (Youngwol, Korea).

Her work at large, incorporates everyday objects and subjects to make visual sense of the complexities of human emotions and feelings derived from the intangible, such as music. Her photographic inspiration stems from her experiences of living and travelling abroad. She extracts the memories and various emotions born out of the human connections she’s made during that time of being in foreign spaces.

Building on this conceptual narrative, her work has landed her multiple recognitions, from the 2019 Critical Mass as a top 200 Finalist (USA) to the 1st Place Richards’ Family Trust Award during the 25th juried show at the Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, USA). In Korea, she was received the Dong Gang International Photo Festival’s Now and New Exhibition award.

Follow Sunjoo Lee on Instagram: @sunjooleephotography

Thank you to Sejin Paik for her excellent translation

Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.

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