Sometimes, beauty is indeed born of adversity. At least that is the case with the two bodies of work by Korean photographer Jungjin Lee on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery through December 12. The photographs are from two commissioned projects: Unnamed Road, photographs from Israel, and The Everglades, in Florida, both difficult, forbidding places where Lee created beautiful, brooding images.
Lee was one of 12 photographers invited by Frédéric Brenner to contribute to This Place, which is on view at the Norton Museum of Art through January 17 and travels to the Brooklyn Museum in February. She visited Israel several times between 2009 and 2013, difficult trips that made her uncomfortable and even angry. But that anger is implied rather than expressed outright in her images: barren landscapes, pockmarked walls casting long shadows, literally and figuratively, trees lined up like soldiers, or a paved road that just ends, abruptly, in the dirt.
Lee’s textured, grainy photographs are more painterly than photojournalistic, and her labor-intensive printing process involves both a darkroom and digital interventions. She prints her images on Mulberry paper coated with a gelatin-silver emulsion, then scans the prints and makes additional changes in Photoshop. It is not surprising that she was heavily influenced by calligraphy, as well as ceramics and painting. In one photograph from The Everglades series, she catches a bird, wings spread, as it seems to lift off right in front of her camera out of a patch of tall grasses. Another, lush and inky, is a nearly unreadable tangle of mangrove roots and watery reflections. Lee made these photographs after Tim Wride, curator of photography the Norton Museum, asked her to be among five artists photographing the Everglades for the exhibition Imaging Eden. Although the terrain in the two bodies of work on view at Howard Greenberg could not be more different, the images are similarly introspective, even meditative. Lee’s true subject may ultimately have more to do with her interior landscape than the one in front of her camera.