Ji-Yeon Sung Interview
by Sharon Boothroyd
What interests me is to make visible, through photography, the contrast between the silence outside and the inner tension of the individual. The feeling of strangeness is the focus of my art project.
Ji-Yeon is represented by Galerie Marie Cini in Paris where I first saw her striking portraits and remained transfixed until my friend managed to drag me away. The thing about these images is, they draw you in with their aesthetic beauty but they don’t offer a fixed explanation or specific point of resonance, they lack definitive parameters.
Often aesthetics act as a means to connect you to a deeper truth by grabbing your attention. Ji-Yeon however uses the combination of visual beauty and unfixed meaning to push and pull the viewer; in and away, in and away, searching for a point of connection or narrative. But it isn’t there. And yet I’m still standing there, still searching for it.
Perhaps some people would find the continual ambiguity off putting but I consider this the success of the work. Often when I see work that is ’empty’ but visually strong I get quickly bored but here I was kept lingering.
There’s something about the strangeness.
Ji-Yeon agreed to giving me some insight as I continued to linger.
SB: How long have you been interested in photography?
JYS: Since 2001
How did you become interested?
I wanted to study lighting design in France at the beginning of my stay, so I returned to the School of Fine Arts. There, I learned many different materials such as drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving, photography, and video. When I took the photo workshop, I experienced a great sense of relief and, for me, the power to explain it is beyond any language.
When did you realise you were a ‘photographer’?
During my first solo exhibition at the Korean Cultural Center in Paris in 2006, where I won the Prize “Young Korean Artist in Paris”, and after the sale of my first photograph for a private collector.
What did the realisation feel like?
People want to share what I photograph and I want to share too, so I feel a great sense of confidence in myself and, at the same time, a great responsibility as an artist.
What brought you to this interest in strangeness?
I love observing everything around me. Mostly, I like to observe and reflect on everyday scenes of life in stores, the subway, or the street. These observations bring me the ideas and the desires that I try to produce in my photographs.
So you see this strangeness in the people you observe in public?
No, it’s not that I wanted to say I see the strangeness in people. Rather, I see that an ordinary and public scene, gesture or action can show a strange scene without knowing the beginning and end of the story.
What elements of your work achieve this feeling of strangeness for you? There is something in the unseen, it’s a feeling that you manage to make visual somehow?
I want to say I’m really interested when the moment of banality switches to the strangeness. When I work for the project, I have the images, words or feelings that I want to show or share. During shooting, I try to get close to what I feel.
The result is that my photographs make visible the strangeness or mystery in a scene that appears ordinary and unspecified. Beyond a physical presence, invisible mental states are felt. I seek, through the photography, to make evidence of the contrast between the external silence and the tension within the individual.
Do you use actors?
I do not photograph professional actors. They are friends and acquaintances and they have many different professions.
How do you feel about your progress as an artist so far?
Keeping the good will and developing the confidence in myself as an artist, I am making progress gradually.
Could you describe what you mean by ‘good will’?
I mean to say the desire to go forward, to feel I am “doing the right thing at the right time.”
This confidence you talk about is really important. How would you advise photographers to maintain a critical approach to their work but feel confident enough to be able to stand up for it?
Indeed, it’s true that it’s not easy. When you show the photos to the public, it will be better to listen with an open mind and leave the door open to all possibilities of interpretation. But when you make the photos, do not stop to ask why.
What things do you still hope to achieve in your art?
I want to show the strangeness and mystery in the relationship between different people, and for the moment, I work with one person only in my photography. In the future, I would like to photograph several people together to exhibit the strangeness or unexpressed mystery that exists between and amongst them.