Two Faces, Lee Duegyoung

Sometimes, the answers are all right in front of you. And at other times, small things obscure them.

An aside before the actual review: Lee Duegyoung’s Two Faces includes a list of notes by critic Lim Geun-jun that give detailed descriptions of his previous projects and working methods. Lim’s very clear description of Lee’s “Teheranno” as panoramic composites made from photographs taken from a helicopter with a downward facing camera to mimic satellite imagery clarifies for me the images I mentioned last week as a stand out in the 2012 Seoul Photo Festival. I had not connected them in my mind to Two Faces because Lee’s name was transliterated differently in the SPF catalog. For my part, I have always transliterated names as they are transliterated in the publication and will continue to do so despite the obvious possibility for missed connections. On to the review.

Lee Duegyoung maintains an incredible consistency of good ideas coupled with masterful execution and high-quality book design. Given his past exhibits and publications, it is little wonder that Two Faces is such a strong book. I may be faulted for wearing my heart on my sleeve here, but so be it. I like this book. Two Faces is one of the most engaging Korean photo books I have acquired recently. Both the content and design are outstanding; as a bonus the texts are clearly written and available in both Korean and English.

Two Faces comprises two panoramic photographs of the north and south banks of the Han River as it runs through Seoul. Lee composited roughly 13,000 photographs taken over four days from multiple river boats into two panoramic images. The two panoramas run essentially unbroken opposite from one another, top and bottom, across the accordion pages of the book. The book places the reader almost in the prow of a boat from which he can look left and right at the two banks of the Han. The “accordion” is perfect bound along one edge preventing the reader from opening it up to peruse long stretches of the panoramas.

Due to the inevitable perspective shifts caused by shooting from a moving platform, some tall buildings away from the river’s banks appear multiple times in slightly shifted positions. This gives an experiential edge to the photographs. Just as an actual viewer on a river cruise might espy the same edifice from multiple angles over the course of the journey, so too is the reader treated to this experience. Any sense of an absolute recording of the river is broken, the panoramas present a view that is spatial and temporal and hint at a continuum of possible views.

Lim notes that one of Lee’s influences is Ed Ruscha’s trilogy of artists books: Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations and Thirty-Four Parking Lots. This makes perfect sense to me, though the incredible breadth of Lee’s effort brings to my mind another project: Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh. in Two Faces Lee has taken an equally ambitious target but rather than get bogged down in endless possibility has brought the work to a magnificent completion through a tightly focused conceptual framework and equally tight physical form. I’m sure there’s a jazz metaphor here, but I’m not a jazz guy.

The physical form effectively contributes to the conclusion of Lee’s Hangang trilogy by referencing the previous projects. The cover presents us with a complete foreshadowing of the work within: the panoramas have been compressed into the length of the wraparound cover. This calls to mind the time compressed video that accompanied the exhibition of Lee’s Hangang Project II – 25 Bridges. Lim notes the video, and I take take his note a step further to explicitly make the connection with Two Faces‘s cover. So too would I point out the somewhat obvious connection of the book’s accordion form to his 69 Snack Booths catalog which also employed an accordion form. These small formal and technical echoes that tie project to project create a sense of structured completeness.

I’ll end with a small personal detail that I enjoy: in the panorama that tracks the north bank of the Han, Lee has photographed my mother-in-law’s apartment building under construction shortly before she would have moved in.

Singular concept.
Tight design.
A work fully thought through.

Two Faces
Lee Duegyoung
Written by: Lim Guen-jun and Rhee Z-Won
Translated by: Choi S. Min and Kim Sung
Edited and Designed by: Suki and Min
Specter Press, Seoul
Edition of 700