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‘Artist another name for lighthouse keeper or mailman’

‘Artist another name for lighthouse keeper or mailman’

Photographer Lee Myung-ho talks about his surreal, meditative images of trees and deserts

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Published : 2013-12-11 19:47
Updated : 2013-12-11 19:47

“Tree #4” (2013).  (Gallery Hyundai)
Artist Lee Myung-ho takes on the role of a movie producer in his photography projects. He searches all year round for perfect locations for his photo shoots, traveling to some of the most remote places in the world such as the Gobi Desert and the Tundra, and directs a production crew of 10 to 100 along with heavy cranes.

Traces of such a complex procedure are hardly seen in Lee’s simple, meditative images of trees and deserts. The final products only show a tree standing alone against a white canvas backdrop in the middle of a vast field, or endless deserts.

Revealing common objects as natural landscapes through use of a white canvas, Lee’s photos received attention in the international photography scene first and in Korea later. His works were featured in the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and ARTnews and exhibited at a prominent photography gallery in New York, the Yossi Milo Gallery.

“Because it takes a lot of preparation and time, I can’t afford to do more than four projects a year. In that sense, I’m like an organic farmer,” said Lee in an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday at Gallery Hyundai. His solo exhibition opens on Thursday. 

Artist Lee Myung-ho poses for a photo with his work, on display at Gallery Hyundai. (Gallery Hyundai)
Traveling to destinations as far away as the tundra in Russian territory, 3,200 kilometers from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, one might imagine him to be an adventurous photographer featured in National Geographic magazine. But he compares himself rather to a mailman or a lighthouse keeper delivering images from far-off places to viewers.

“My role is to take one spot in the world and deliver it to the other end, like delivering mail along with some food for thought,” said Lee.

Becoming an artist wasn’t on his career agenda until he graduated from a photography college. Instead, he wanted to become a mailman or a lighthouse keeper. Their work, he believes, is “trivial, yet important” in helping deliver something from one place to another.

“I actually sent letters to every lighthouse keeper in Korea asking what it’s like to be working at a lighthouse. Many of them replied. Some said it’s the best job if one can handle loneliness. Sometimes the time they spend by the sea separates them from the memory of their children,” said Lee, who added that the lighthouse keeper position is the lowest level in the civil service.

“I think an artist is not so very different from them. An artist is another name for a lighthouse keeper and a mailman.”

But he continued on as an artist after his first project, financed by his parents, and was featured on the cover of a photography magazine in Korea. Since then, he has dedicated himself to discovering the most beautiful spots in the world and delivering images of them to viewers.

“Actually I knew this was going to work. I did pre-visualization and it was hair-raisingly awesome,” said Lee cautiously, not wishing to be seen as too confident in his idea.

Lee dreams big for his next project.

He hopes to shoot famous landmarks around the world such as the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Sphinx in Egypt. Sungnyemun Gate would have been his first subject in this project if it there hadn’t been so much concern raised about the possibility of damaging the gate. In fact, the project was planned right after the renovation of the gate was completed, following an arson attack that destroyed much of the historical structure in 2008.

“It was a sign that the gate’s renovation wasn’t complete yet,” he said in hindsight, referring to the recently discovered problems with the restored landmark.

“I will start with landmarks overseas and get back to Sungnyemun in the end,” Lee said.

Lee Myung-ho’s solo exhibition runs from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4, at Gallery Hyundai, Sagan-dong, Jongno, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 2287-3500.

By Lee Woo-young (

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