Dreaming Through Objects

Young-Taik Park (Professor of Kyonggi University, Art Critic)


For Helen Chung Lee, photography is an important tool that allows her to uncover the deeper meanings and qualities of objects which may otherwise be hidden to the naked eye. She uses the creative power of photography through her own interpretation of the visual world around her. She also believes that photography is not confined merely to record and representation. Photographic vision presents different scenes for visual comparison, similar to hallucination as if the images are virtual. Her photographic work stems from her interest in presenting photographic images in ways that we do not typically expect from photography.


Therefore, for her, photography makes it possible to dream, while awake, through objects. A photograph is not an object in itself. It is 'a photographic image' in relation to the object. Thus, it can be said that in reality, there is no subject for photography which is not transformed by a photographer's point of view. Therein lies the beauty of photographic art. Accordingly, photography as an art does not seek to simply present the object as it is but rather the artist's interpretation of it. The enjoyment and appreciation of art, therefore, consists of finding hidden meaning in what is visually presented.


Helen Chung Lee's latest works are photos taken closely of abalone surfaces. They have mysterious colors, textures, and sparkle. Man-made, artificial products go against the essence of nature because they lack visual consistency. However, things that are found in their natural state possess intelligence and minute calculation of immense dimensions which is rarely, if ever, possible through human design. The colors and textures of the shells here form surreal, fascinating landscapes of strange and mysterious beauty. They are only made possible by the cumulative and long-term effects of water, sunshine, and wind. It is the epic and dynamic creativity of Nature itself that Lee has captured in these photographs.


The strangeness of the objects in these works do not lie in themselves but is created by variation of time and distance. This distance is a key element to the artistic representation. Accordingly, Helen Chung Lee portrays images that were previously considered hidden by first capturing familiar objects through close-up photography and then transforming them into beautifully unfamiliar scenes with her imagination. She has found hidden meanings of objects, analyzed them in her own way, and expressed them freely through the medium of photography. The technique that Lee uses in these works involves combining mixed materials with photographic images on the canvas. She first transfers photographic images to the surface of a canvas by using a technique known as Lazertran. She then infuses diverse colors and textures into each image through the use of acrylic paints.


These works have romantic, evocative titles like 'Morning Scent,' 'Blue Dawn,' 'Endless Waiting,' 'Autumn Dream', and 'Twin Mountain' which do not tangible images so much as dreamy moods. Lee's photographic painting at first gives the impression of representing realistic places, but what they actually do is make us see fantastic imagery in an ordinary abalone shell. It is a sort of dreaming landscape. She dreams of her dream and then brings it to reality through photography. Mechanical photographic images represent what already exists in the world. However, Lee's photographic images begin as ordinary objects and then become vast scenes full of abstract and visionary images.


Photography as art comes into bloom when it helps us eliminate pre-existing knowledge and attitudes of the photographic subject matter. Helen Chung Lee's photographic painting seeks to do nothing less than precisely this. We all have the capability to transcend such preconceptions while viewing familiar objects, but in daily life, our eyes are rarely able to do so. Viewing these works, however, is like being given a new pair of eyes, fresh and untainted by experience, through which we can newly behold the familiar world with innocence and wonder.