In the Metropolitan Museum here in New York is a small and quirky room all done up in tromp l’oeil–and in wooden inlay no less. From the singular surface of each wall shape and color bring forth intricate, playful depth. The room is a wonder.
Photography works in the opposite manner. The lens takes light bouncing around three dimensional space and compresses it onto the single plane of the photographic surface. On the cover of In Between Something and Nothing, five surfaces intersect at seven joints. Light and shadow push and pull against the spatial compression of the photographic image.
Kyungja Jeong’s photographs “record the moment that she feels something that might be nothing from everyday life.” I don’t know quite what to make of this–and might take it in any number of opposite directions. The photographs are banal: corners where wall meets wall meets ceiling (and a handful with small objects set into such spaces). They contain soft light–gathered here and shadowed there. Though they are in color, the dominant tone is a monotone washed out cream.
Perhaps the room at the Met is not what most comes to mind with these photographs. In a previous apartment in which I lived, my bed was set into a bay window that overlooked the intersection of two busy streets. All night long cars would pass beneath this window, and their headlights would cast shadows across the ceiling. I would lay awake watching the light and shadows as they pushed and stretched across the ceiling before winking out. This might be exactly the knife edge of “something that might be nothing” that Jeong has in mind. The act of recording might make something out of nothing–or it might be that what we perceived as something is shown in the photograph to be merely nothing.
In the second volume in this pair, Jeong again plays with the photographic surface. In inVisible / Suspended Landscape the ostensible subject is consumed by the surface–droplets and smears of water on glass or reflections in water. This reflective or disruptive surface calls attention to the photographic surface–like in the room at the Met, our eyes our fooled into seeing depth within the hair thin surface of ink on paper. Not only do we perceive that the surface itself has depth, but we strain to look beyond it to the subject behind the surface.
Set stark in the middle of the photographs from “inVisible” are half a dozen photographs from Jeong’s series “Suspended Landscape” of green landscapes with a single lone human figure nearly lost in them. They are distinctly different than the photographs before and after. One can only assume that as readers we are being tested. The photographic surface is no less a distortion here in these photographs where we can see the subject clearly. The figures are as suspended in the landscapes as the landscapes are suspended in the photographic surface.
The design of the book by Yeoun Joo Park, founder of Hezuk Press, is worth noting. The saddle stitched pages of the two slim volumes are offset so that as one flips from page to page the images remain stationary but the edges of the pages float first up then down than back again. The photographs are suspended in the design. They are weightless in a way–perhaps we are again seeing the edge between something and nothing. Park’s design is extremely crafty and self-aware–it does not interfere with the photography but rather amplifies it. (The printing by Munsung, Seoul is also extremely good.)
Jeong’s photographs are beautiful and beguiling. Using the very limitations of the photographic surface Jeong creates expansive spatial depth. They take the thinnest slices of everyday “somethings” on the very edge of nothingness and mold them into significant moments.