SVA Alumnus and Photographer JeongMee Yoon Focuses on People and Their Possessions
July 18, 2019 by Joyce Rutter Kaye
Elephant, a photograph from JeongMee Yoon’s “Zoo” series, 1998.
<p "="">Two color, square-formatted photographs, side by side, of a shopkeeper in a store filled with necklaces, statuettes and other items.

Photographs from JeongMee Yoon’s “Space-Man-Space” series. From left: Yeonhwasa, Gyeonji-dong, Seoul, South Korea, 2017; Yeonhwasa, Gyeonji-dong, Seoul, South Korea, 2002.

The current issue of the Visual Arts Journal, the magazine of the School of Visual Arts, includes “Spotlight: Seoul,” a feature highlighting some of the many SVA alumni who live and work in South Korea’s capital city. Over the next few weeks, we will post the individual profiles as standalone articles on First up: acclaimed fine-art photographer JeongMee Yoon (MFA 2006 Photography, Video and Related Media).

Photographer JeongMee Yoon‘s fascination with typologies and what they reveal about societies has been a thread woven throughout her work over the past two decades. Her MFA thesis, “The Pink and Blue Project,” shot in New York and Seoul and widely exhibited around the world, depicts small girls and boys dwarfed by their huge collections of color-coded gender-specific toys, clothing and other objects. The meticulously staged, brightly hued images are powerful statements about gender-based marketing and rampant consumerism. They also exemplify Yoon’s ability to leverage an image’s framework to tell a story, as seen from her early black-and-white “Zoo” series (1999) to the more recent “Animal Companions,” a 2015 project showing the connection between animal ownership and a person’s identity and social status. In that series’ catalog, art critic Hyeyoung Shin observes, “Unlike a portrait photography, which focuses only [on] a person, [Yoon] provides environmental information surrounding the subject to contribute not only the visual content but also its form.”

<p "="">Three color, square-formatted photographs side by side, showing a young girl at varying ages in her bedroom, surrounded by her brightly colored belongings.

Photographs from JeongMee Yoon’s ongoing series “The Pink and Blue Project.” From left: Maia and Her Pink Things, Queens, NY, USA, 2006, from “The Pink Project I”; Maia and Her Pink and Blue Things, NY, USA, 2009, from “The Pink Project II”; Maia and Her Pink, Green and Blue Things, NY, USA, 2015, from “The Pink Project III.”

As she was taking visitors through her solo show, “Human-Space-Relationship” at Space Imsi Gallery, in Incheon, South Korea, last October, Yoon paused before another series, “Space-Man-Space,” which feature shop clerks surrounded by their tightly organized wares in Seoul’s Insadong neighborhood, first shot in 2000 and again in 2015. Yoon observed that the shopkeepers′ personal appearance seemed to be subconsciously dictated by the goods—or perceptions—they were trying to sell. One man, for example, dressed in a suit to peddle “authentic” Korean ceramics that are actually cheap products made in China.

“When people have a certain job, they dress to serve their job. Their appearance is very related to their stuff,” she says. And that “stuff” speaks volumes. “I think about small tiny things symbolizing our society’s systems. I’m very interested in this kind of structure.”