About the Photographer
American, b. 1961 Korea
In the series Heads (1993-99), Jin Lee uses the photogram process to create silhouettes of individual people viewed in profile. In the darkroom Lee positions each of her subjects in front of photo-sensitive paper so that an exposure to light registers his or her outline on the paper. In each case the person's head shows up in white surrounded by a field of black, inverting the standard appearance of silhouettes as black, shadow-like shapes. In employing silhouettes Lee challenges the conventions and uses of photographic portraiture. "Historically," she writes, "photography has been used to exoticize, categorize, and to objectify various groups of people, especially in the images of women, minorities, and foreigners… Unlike traditional portraits, however, these silhouette images are marked by absence, lacking descriptive elements such as texture, color, and dimension. The notion that a photograph reveals some kind of truth about a subject is contradicted by the emptiness of the silhouetted image." At the same time, the individual outlines in the series reveal small differences between the sitters, providing visual clues that the viewer could use to guess the subject's race, gender, and age. The images are mostly blank, but they solicit a more pronounced awareness of the ways we infer things about other people through subtle signs.
In other series of photographs Lee concentrates on the sensuous experience of a place, and her work functions both as a personal investigation of her immediate surroundings and an attempt to transpose a sense of the sublime onto a more inimate scale. The photographs in Small Mountains (2006-2008) appear to portray imposing mountain crags but they actually provide close-up views of mounds of road salt and dirt that the artist discovered at various outdoor sites. This series extends Lee’s interest in the physical effects of weather and time, a theme that she introduced in an earlier project documenting the Illinois prairies throughout the seasons. Equally, though, Small Mountains highlights the contingency of our relationship with space. The photographs create ambiguities of scale and require us to negotiate between an appearance that echoes past representations of majestic landscapes and minute details that reveal a more modest reality.
Lee received a BA from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts (1983) and an MFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago (1988). She is currently an associate professor of photography at Illinois State University.