Korean Photographer Creates Imaginary Worlds In Her Tiny Studio

JeeYoung Lee
Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee

Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee was born in 1983, and earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Seoul’s Hongik University. Since 2007, Lee has been shooting whimsical images that represent either her experiences, dreams and memories, or represent traditional Korean folk tales and legends.

Seeing Lee’s work for the first time, most viewers will presume her colorful, fantasy world images are the product of a large amount of digital manipulation. Yet each of her photos is created through the meticulous construction of elaborate sets by the artist herself, rather than use of Photoshop. In the middle of each image you can always find the artist herself, as Lee’s work is a type of unconventional self-portraiture.

“Resurrection” by Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee

In “Resurrection” Lee appears inside a lotus portraying rebirth. The image references Shim Cheongin, a Korean fable about a girl who throws herself into the sea and comes back to life inside a blooming lotus. Lee created this dreamlike image by painting paper lotus and flooding the room with fog and carbonic ice.

What boggles the mind is that Lee creates all the scenes in her images by hand – in a tiny studio that measures a mere 3.6 x 4.1 x 2.4 meters. Starting with an idea born in her imagination, Lee will labor for weeks, sometimes months, constructing a surreal set for the sake of taking a single photograph. For each of her photographs the artist fills every square inch of space with hand-made props, set pieces, and backdrops

When the set is complete, Lee inserts herself in the scene and then takes multiple test shots. After carefully examining the test shots and making any adjustments she deems necessary, Lee takes the final shot with a 4×5 large format film camera. Lee then disassembles the set once the final photograph is produced.

"Treasure Hunt"
“Treasure Hunt” by Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee

To create “Treasure Hunt”, Lee devoted three months to crafting the wire grassland, which carpets her studio to evoke a child-like wonderland. She spent nearly eight hours a day weaving bits of craft wire to a mesh screen to complete the grass flooring.

Lee’s avoidance of the use of Photoshop is based on her belief that the building and breaking-down of the set is an integral part of her artwork. She only uses Photoshop when she has suspended objects from the ceiling of her studio, in which case she uses the program to erase the fishing lines used for suspension.

My Chemical Romance
“My Chemical Romance” by Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee

“My Chemical Romance” with its maze of pipes and yellow & black danger tape, Lee depicts the anxiety and disappointments felt by herself or those around her, and how they can lead to conflict and clashes of personality.

Lee is unique in that in addition to the role of photographer, she also assumes the roles of set designer, sculptor, installation artist, and performer. The results are magical, as can be seen in this small selection of a few of her work.

"Panic Room"
“Panic Room” by Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee

“Panic Room” shows the artist hiding herself inside a cupboard to protect and shelter herself from the confusion outside – symbolized by the dizzying atmosphere Lee created by bending the perspective in her studio. (For

Recipient of multiple artistic awards, JeeYoung Lee is recognized as one of the most promising up-and-coming artists in Korea. Her work has also received extensive coverage outside her home country by global news outlets such as Huffington Post, NBC news, CNN international, France 3 National news, China Daily, etc. as well as on various art/photo websites.

Author: Kana Kukui

Part Asian/part Western, and having lived almost my entire life in Asia, photography, particularly photography in Asia, has been a major interest in both my personal and professional life. Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a huge pool of talented photographers in Asia that generally goes unnoticed outside their local country. I’ve also found that there is a great interest in Asia by photographers based outside the region. The purpose of this site, and my Twitter (@KanaKukui) is simple: 1) to share some insights about photography in Asia – introducing talented photographers shooting in Asia, and subjects and locations to shoot in the region. And 2) to provide a little inspiration to everyone interested in photography – from the hobbyist to the emerging professional.

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