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Artist Statement
Jin Lee
Wind and Prairie Exhibition Catalog
Published by Sioux City Art Center
2011

Covered with flowers
Instantly I’d like to die
In this dream of ours!

Etsujin

My work for the past ten years has centered on a close examination of the particularities of the midwestern landscape. From 2001 to 2004, I worked on the Prairie series, a photographic study of prairie plants in different stages of their seasonal cycles, that documents the rich diversity of Illinois’s native plants. Concurrently I started the Wind series, examining the way wind moves and animates the landscape. With both series, I wanted to study the natural life that is specific to a place: its native plants, weather conditions, and seasonal patterns.

Most of the Prairie photographs were taken during my sabbatical, a year of uninterrupted time that allowed me to slow down and learn to see the complexity of the prairie around me. Described as North America’s characteristic landscape, the prairie has been likened to the ocean in its immensity, multiplicity, endless variety, and contemplative moods. I wanted to make precise and accurate photographs of the prairie plants in the tradition of scientific illustrations and documentary photographs, and at the same time create a parallel, dream-like world of images suspended between the real and the imagined. Like the artists of botanical drawings from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, my goal was to gather physical descriptions of the natural world that could lead to a sense of discovery and wonder.

As I learned to prolong my looking and sustain my attention, I slowly became aware of the presence of the wind. Animated movements of the grasses and trees transformed the ordinary scenes into epic events full of drama; experiencing the landscape’s dynamic, living moments was exhilarating and magical. In observing the fleeting movements of the wind and the perennial cycles of the prairie, I came to see the inevitable forward movement of time that circles back, and to understand that nature exists in a state of flux and perpetual becoming.

Once while wandering through the Art Institute of Chicago, I came across several seventeenth-century, Edo-period Japanese screen paintings that seem to embody a similar reflection on impermanence of being. Comprised of multiple panels with precisely drawn details of grasses and flowering trees against flat shimmering backgrounds, the paintings are meditations on the unavoidable transience of beauty. In reading collections of Zen poems, I also discovered descriptions of the natural world that seemed photographic in their sense of heightened reality. Haiku poems, by framing reality in a single instant, bring about “the full perception of the moment – being here and now.”(1) This seems to be a perfect description of what I strive for as a photographer: to arrive at a highly conscious state of awareness, concentration, clarity, and openness.

I often think about photographer Robert Adams’s observation that “if one loved one’s own landscape it would then, and only then, be possible to love other landscapes”.(2) My work comes out of a deep desire to know and to love a place, and therefore to belong to that place. My goal is to develop a sustained relationship and a connection to the place I live by paying attention to and photographing particular things over and over again. I am not interested in landscape as a vista of the land seen from a distance; I am interested in a specific perception made with a simple directness that brings out the magnificence of what is being seen. The photographs represent an exercise in seeing: honing perception to the sensuous reality of a constantly changing and dynamic natural world.

1. Haiku: The Poetry of Zen, edited by Manuela Dunn Mascetti, Hyperion, NY, 1996, p.14.
2. Adams, Robert, Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, Aperture,1981, p.18.