An Acela Express train is whisking me back to New York City, but I’m already there.
Jaeyulee’s Fragments in Scene is open on my lap. It is suffocating and cacophonous. Photograph after photograph bombards the reader. A compressed tonal scale and a rough half-tone accentuate the visual density of the individual photographs, which run helter-skelter across the gutter. The pace is relentless. There is nowhere for the eye to rest. New York City screams from each page.
In an opening text Lee describes his urban upbringing. The division between the City and the Self becomes confused. The one intertwines with the other. The title refers to a 1931 poem written “automatically”. Likewise, the camera is an automatic device for recording his wandering through and communion with the City. He carries his camera daily. Frangments in Scene is a culmination of this quotidian camera carrying. (It is not “the” culmination; Lee lists 20 publications under the “Books” section of his website.)
There is little new here. Its local antecedents include William Klein’s Life is Good and Good for You in New York, Daido Moriyama’s ’71 – NY, Ken Schles’ Invisible City and Yuichi Hibi’s Imprint among others. If we cast a broader net, other books in a similar vein include Osamu Kanemura’s Spider’s Strategy, and Shinya Arimoto’s ariphoto selection vols 1 through 4. Lee must know these books as there are clear visual references to Klein’s, Schles’s and Hibi’s books. In its unremitting pace, one might see a manic echo of Winogrand in Fragment in Scene. This is not a knock; it is a recognition of one tradition to which his photography belongs.
Implicit in the last paragraph is the notion that Fragment in Scene is part of a local New York City history of photography as well as to an international tradition of street photography. In the bio on his website, Lee says, “I capture of world from the many cultural influences and experiences I have had…”. His work is shaped by multiple traditions as he has been shaped by multiple experiences. In a way, Fragment in Scene, and Lee’s photography more broadly, highlights the arbitrary lines that divide one history from another. One might as easily claim his photography for New York as for Korea. Or one might see him at a nexus of multiple histories: New York, Korean, Street and perhaps others.
Penn Station is drawing close. I’ve closed Fragments in Scene and put it back in my bag. In a few minutes I will step off of the train, climb the stairs out of the station up to the street and step out into the noise and the bustle and chaos in which I’ve been immersed through the four hour ride.
Fragments in Scene