A photo of balls floating in air recently joined the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection. When Jehsong Baak was in his early 20s, he would have scoffed at the idea that such an establishment would ever be interested in his work. The Korean-born artist was living in New York, confused by how one was supposed to make a living with a camera. It was going so badly, in fact, that he gave up photography entirely for seven years, and took a job with an investor.
It was Paris that rescued him.
He appreciated that his boss had taken a chance on him, he recalls on the phone, but ultimately, "I was bored to death with that job, slowly rotting away at the age of 29."
The allure of that other artists' capital sucked him from his haze.
"At least I'd know I'd tried," he said of his decision to move there and dedicate himself entirely to photography, yet again.
Upon arrival, he was unable to sleep. He wandered the streets at night with his Leica M6, finding it easier to make good photos in the darkness.
"During the day, there is way too much information. We see too much. At night, with so much darkness, you can better select the details or situations that are visually pleasing," he explains.
His work over the next ten years — which he is in the process of turning into a book — is filled with reflections and enigmatic women's faces. Only slivers of light bubble through. Sometime his own hand or reflection enters into the frame. He had made Paris his.
The legendary Robert Delpire, who edited and published Robert Frank's The Americans, took note of Baak's work during this time. In 2006, Delpire published and edited La ou Ailleurs, a collection of Baak's work. Given that Frank is one of the photographers Baak most admires, it was yet another sign that Paris had been the right choice.
Ironically, he says he sometimes envious of his young photographer self, the one no one seemed to like. Those he knows he's far more skilled now, he misses that "youthful and furious hunger" that dissipates as one becomes more aware.
Baak's work can be seen at the Corcoran, the Rick Wester Fine Art gallery and at the Rencontres d'Arles Festival this month.
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