Yoon Jean Lee

Everyday Surprises

We are inundated in optical stimuli in everyday life – and have learned to overlook what we do not directly need, also within our own four walls. In her photos, South Korean-born Yoon Jean Lee foregrounds those hardly regarded everyday objects: a shelf, a phone, a chair, a cup. The images from her series “Still-Life” document her view of a small world that she then dissects with her camera. The objects derive from a microcosm, the artist’s flat or those of her friends – “the series of still lifes focuses on the physical penetration of the private sphere,” says Yoon Jean Lee.

When Yoon Jean Lee moved from Seoul to Dusseldorf in 1995 to study Photography at the Academy of Art there, she felt like a foreign body in Germany. Back then, she had time to get to grips with her surroundings, and started using her camera to explore the unknown environment. The influence of her mentors, first Bernd and Hilla Becher, later Thomas Ruff, is more than apparent: Yoon Jean Lee’s photos are sober and matter of fact; her approach is systematic; she takes photographs in series. Her shots are still lifes devoid of any pretensions and make their mark on us by their sheer size. And they amuse us, as the exaggeration of the ostensibly banal makes the images somehow bizarre, and yet infuses them with a touch of irony.

Yoon Jean Lee uses her camera to redefine an existing space. She chooses an unorthodox composition and strange angles for her shots – sometimes she photographs from the floor, sometimes from high up, sometimes cropping the objects. An ordinary glass table with metal feet morphs into an ornamental living room blossom by being taken from above; a covered table awakens our curiosity because, taken from below, we can hardly discern what is on it; her shot of a sideboard and a green chair at a desk is surprising because in both instances the objects are degraded to the status of marginal props: In each image a white wall takes pride of place. In this way, Yoon Jean Lee breaks with our customary ways of seeing and shows everyday objects in an unusual light. This unorthodox perspective is captivating and also shows us that everyday life is full of surprises – as long as you see things from a slightly different angle.

Biographical information

1972

born in Seoul, Korea

1994

graduated from Seoul Institute of the Arts, Korea

1996–2002

studied with Bernd Becher and Thomas Ruff at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf

lives and works in Seoul and Dusseldorf