In his delicate photographs of cherry blossoms, an ephemeral part represents the much-loved whole.
A blooming cherry tree is so beautiful to behold—and so invested with human notions of natural perfection, especially in the cultures of east Asia—that an artist depicting it may struggle to rise above pure representation. This difficulty is still greater in photography because of the medium's literal inclination. Yet photographers have long been seduced by the cherry's ineffable pink blossoms, called Sakura in Japan, where its namesakes have included the country's first color film and its first commercial camera.
So it was aesthetically brave that Yong Hee Kim, in his first photographs of cherry blossoms, chose to sap their very color—shooting them with flash against the sky's dark zenith and printing them in black and white with such density that they struggle to emerge from the surface of the print. Unable to resist the blossoms' hue, the South Korea-born photographer has since returned to depicting them in color. His color images don't represent cherry trees as rooted beings, though. Instead, they form abstract networks of branches exploding with blossoms.
You can see that newer work in a one-person exhibition starting May 20 at Manhattan's Michael Mazzeo gallery. Take heed, though: Kim's show will be up for only seven days, because that's about how long cherry trees hold onto their blossoms before depositing them in a pink carpet on the ground below. That's also the time period during which the artist created the entire body of photographs that is on display.
The prints are spectacular. Made with archival pigment inks, they measure 20x30 inches on a 24x34 sheet of fine-art paper. Kim, who has exhibited both in Europe and at Seoul's Kimyoungsoeb Gallery (one of Korea's first and best photographic venues) is a masterful printmaker. If you can't get to the Michael Mazzeo Gallery, though, you can see the images in a diminutive form in 7 days., a limited-edition artist's book that Kim has created to go along with the show.
Entirely handmade in Poland, the 5.75x8.25-inch book contains 30 images and an original 2.5x3.5-inch metallic C-print held in a sleeve at the back. Produced in an edition of just 500 copies, it costs $100 and can be ordered directly from www.michaelmazzeo.com—but if you buy one during the week of the exhibition you can get it for half price, just $50. Unadorned except for a small sticker with the title and artist, the book's cover is a very pale pink. It seems that Japanese cherry blossoms are typically a more delicate shade of pink than those in America—and to determine the color of the cover, Kim actually "sampled" a fresh Japanese cherry blossom to arrive at the CMYK equivalent of its beloved hue.
The opening for Yong Hee Kim: 7 days is on Friday, May 21 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, at the Michael Mazzeo Gallery, 526 West 26th Street in Manhattan. The show will be on display through May 29; gallery hours are 12:00 to 6:00 or by appointment. The artist's book can be purchased directly through the gallery; visit www.michaelmazzeo.com.