Jin Lee at devening projects + editions | Art review
Jin Lee photographs Lake Michigan and the West Side.
In LAND SKY WATER, devening projects’ publication about her work, Jin Lee states that her Midwest landscape photography emerges from “a deep desire to know and learn to love a place, and therefore belong to that place.” Though her practice at first seems steeped in sentiment, the artist seeks both an emotional and an objective awareness of her surroundings. The mix of subjects in “The Near and the Far” reflects this thoughtful approach. Focusing on Chicago, Lee finds beauty in scenic Lake Michigan as well as the harder-to-love weedy lots and garbage-strewn grasses of the West Side.
Her “Great Water” series—photographs taken from the same beach over six years—documents the lake’s shifting colors and moods. Because the artist turns her back on the Chicago skyline in these images, omitting any trace of the city, “Great Water” transports viewers elsewhere. Lee shows us a blue-green lake beneath a dreamy blue sky, and brown waves pounded by rain, but I’m most drawn to the eerie Great Water 17, a disorienting image in which mist swallows up the horizon and the subtly rippling water resembles the surface of the moon.
Lee’s “Weed” series pulls the viewer back down to Earth. Recalling 17th-century Japanese screen paintings, these lovely minimalist images depict wild plants growing against white walls. Unlike “Great Water,” “Weed” and the series “Ground”—which is strewn with objects like abandoned phone books and shattered bottles of Wild Irish Rose—clearly announce that they are city scenes, documenting the human activities that also shape Chicago’s landscape.
What’s most striking about these series’ balanced compositions is the intimacy established between photographer and subject. By taking careful inventory of weeds, dead leaves and random debris, Lee suggests we can’t truly know a place through its postcard view alone.