nowhere, now here; Mi-Jeong Baek

Recently on this blog I wrote about Chanmin Park’s unbound book Blocks. I am quite enamored of that book, both for its quietly discomfiting photographs and playful interactive design. Mi-Jeong Baek’s nowhere, now here, also from IANNBOOKS, makes use of a similar unbound design.

A yellow belly band holds the folded leaves of nowhere, now here together. Removing this band and opening the cover, one finds an 8 page insert on thin tissue-like paper. This insert has two plates of overlapping ghosted images and a poem (in both Korean and English) that acts as a kind of coda for the photographs:

I am in a faint state of being,
neither asleep nor awake.

My eyes open at a force that
seems like an explosion.

We come to the photographs. The photographs are suffused with faintness: light overwhelms; fog and snow diffuse; focus drops away; color is muted and soft; location is indistinct; orienting references are absent. It is as though we have drifted into a waking reverie, gliding through the world, lost in a mindful whimsy. And within that faintness a point of clarity becomes apparent and takes hold. It might be a singular detail in an image or the pull of recognition across a sequence; this point pushes us into a state of awareness.

A window in a white room is seen through a window in a white wall. A snowstorm envelopes completely an urban vista. Two high-key desert scenes are muted to a monochrome beige; even the sky seems beige. A pair of cityscapes, again enveloped by a snowstorm, taken minutes apart and from vantage points steps apart, face off across a spread.

A view looking down on tree tops: a break in the wind blown foliage reveals a stepped path and a street light. We move inside: a woman with a fur stole looks away from the camera but the stole looks straight at us. Light blows through plant fronds. Light and shadow plays across a wall–except it isn’t light or shadow, it is the record of years of light and shadow fixed by fading wallpaper and revealed after paintings, hung for years, have been removed. Wind blown trees dissolve into movement behind a concrete wall dissolving into shadow. A horse’s back forms a horizon before an indistinct desert background. A background of gray sky behind: 1. a woman with her head turned away from the viewer, 2. the leafless branches of a fruit tree with a few fruits still hanging, 3. a dense mat of grasses browning and green with a dusting of white flowers. The book ends.

Details begin to emerge on a second pass through. Those white walls are full of distinct shapes and shades. The desert sands are alive with line and texture. The tree tops track the breeze blowing through them; the soft light raking across the passing textures is palpable. That subtle vantage change between cityscapes reveals a subtle shifts in how relationships between objects are perceived.

Baek’s photographs invite scrutiny. In fact, in their faintness they demand it. One wouldn’t photograph nothing; something must have been seen. The viewer must engage as actively in viewing the photographs as the photographer did in making them if he or she wishes to figure out what was seen. It is possible that the viewer may yet find something new.

This quality of faintness carries over to the design. Opening the book, the pages fall out. The book is as easily not a book as it is a book. The first sequence of images lazily drifts downwards on the page. In the second sequence, the images are aligned at the bottom of the page. Vertical images bounce the viewer’s gaze upward. Everything is loose, indistinct. It falls to pieces. And yet everything falls to place, too. The beautiful printing and careful attention to detail shows the design to be as clearly considered as the photographs. A close reading of the design in combination with the photographs delivers added insight.

My eyes have not come open as though forced by an explosion, but rather they have become attuned through attentive looking to the quiet details that create distinction in otherwise indistinct scenes. It is like going to a new place (or simply living half asleep). One arrives and is lost. Without understanding a place one is nowhere. At the moment when distinctions begin to break through the faintness then one is no longer nowhere but instead is suddenly now here. nowhere, now here is a riff on photographic seeing and the interpretive act of seeing.

nowhere, now here
Photographer: Mi-Jeong Baek
Publisher: IANNBOOKS
Editor: Jeong Eun Kim
Editorial Assistants: Mi Rae Song / Vo Ram Lee
Translation: Jeesun Park
Design: Yeoun Joo Park
Printed and bound in Korea by Munsung
© 2009