Certain images captivate me. I return to them over and over again, not really knowing why. They are like mysteries I don't wish to be solved. Myoung Ho Lee's Tree #5 is one of them. At first glance it is deceptively simple. A white backdrop is raised behind the tree and it is photographed. But, there is a strange fluctuation in space here. Almost disturbingly so. It questions the idea of index. That we accept a photograph as having a direct physical connection to it's referent. That this two dimensional object some how has an intrinsic truthfulness. Well, if not truth, at the very least an impartiality in it's representation of reflected light through the use of a camera.
There is something very meditative about the image. Not in its traditional role as an object for 'disinterested regard' but, in the short circuits that disturb it from simply being a sublime scenic view. It is very much how I experience the act of meditation. Something I have always assumed I am doing wrong or have been unsuccessful at. For me meditation has always been experienced as a separation from the noise much like the raised backdrop. Not a place where I disappear but a place where I can simply be. But this space of quiet observation doesn't seem to lend itself to a greater connection with anything outside of me. In this series the trees become something like that, islands of consciousness.
As Lee himself has stated, "a tree is like a universe." But a universe populated by what, connected to what? Populated may be the entirely wrong word as I am not sure that this 'universe' has anything to do with me at all. I may simply be investing it with my own interests. I have been thinking a lot about Barthes assertion that "a photograph is like a message without a code" lately. That they are empty signs that shift in meaning with external referents. That that external referent is us. Beyond just thinking Tree #5 is aesthetically beautiful, for me it also raises so many questions about personal identity and what we and other people bring to the images we create and view.
It reminds me of something I read once. “She looks at the paintings, she looks into them. Every one of them is a picture of Lucy. You can’t see her exactly, but she’s there, in behind the pink stone island or the one behind that. In the picture of the cliff she is hidden by the clutch of fallen rocks towards the bottom, in the one of the river shore she is crouching beneath the overturned canoe. In the yellow autumn woods she is behind the tree that cannot be seen because of the other trees, over beside the blue silver of pond; but if you walked into the picture and found the tree, it would be the wrong one, because the right one would be farther on”. - Margaret Atwood, Death By Landscape.
Links to more of Myoung Ho Lee's work:
@ the Yossi Milo Gallery