Photograph by Junjin Lee

Exploring the lenses

A pictorial experience in Berlin

The verve of the city seemed unquestionably absent or at least queerly reduced to an overarching quietude. The sun was profoundly strong, as one could feel the burning pavements fretting under the constant motion of the preoccupied crowds. Despite sporadic pinches of liveliness, the sentiment of an urban tumult seemed absent, or rather yet not found.’ (Diary entry, June 2019)

Within its controlled beauty, almost rigid at times, Berlin seems  to be a photographic experiment– its tempered clamour takes me by surprise and I start to wonder whether the omniscient energy of the city is immortalised below its surface, awaiting discovery.

‘Yes, there was an overruling sadness, yes, there was a depth that could not be perceived by the very shallow. And those were the precise motifs that revealed to me a Berlin which rejoiced in its photographical silence and inherent geometrical purity.’ (Diary entry, June 2019)

The city holds such a calm energy that at times it only takes me an imaginative leap to envision it as a photograph – textured, black and white, blurry in some instances of visual unclarity. Despite its prevailing ochre and ivory palette, Berlin seems to be a city of greys, with spontaneous strokes of black and white, accentuating life, merriment, motion, or even ruin.

Walking through the Museumsinsel, crossing the Spree a few times, then heading up the street towards the Tiergarten, I started noticing the fabric of the city unveiling its sentimental tones, at corners and crossings, in the rectangular shadows of the colonnades and the sharp-ended window casements. The place and its people resonate in a sort of geometric interplay of rhythm, texture and feigned movement. It is a perpetuated collage – photographic instances metamorphosed into the real, an intangible experience of the still and the distilled – where the eye is the only instrument fit to catch the atypical rearrangements, sights and sounds of the city. Between the surreal and the immortalised, Berlin emerges as a new architectural embodiment, where percept and concept, shadow and light interact in the play of the pictorial. Silenced under a photographic emulation, the city is transformed from an object of the lens to the lens itself – revealing the duality of photography and how places become experiences of immortalisation in parallel with objects in need of immortalisation.

I continue walking through the streets of the city in a slow pace and with a sharp eye – my camera is taken out of its case rarely, only in instances of precise emotion that can indeed surpass the materiality of the lenses. The photographic experience of Berlin consists of the unequivocal act of seeing – the experience of momentary observation and the immediate generation of a visual memory of the place.

I walk and I walk and I walk.

I photograph all the corners in the back of my mind – an exercise for the memory as well as the soul.

I keep on walking until I reach the last corner to immortalise for the day – the Judisches Museum.

The journey through the museum itself is nothing less than a mirrored architectural encapsulation of the Berliner rhythm and aesthetics. Its silenced energy, dichotomised and yet unusually beautiful, accompanies me all throughout, alongside tall windows with elegant white framings, a lean concrete floor and its upward staircased extrusion, undulating in a perfect symmetrical musicality. Stepping up to the second floor, I cannot ignore the tunnels of light that project themselves onto the enveloping walls – photographic synergies between place and space, light and shadow.

Photographs by the Author

Once I enter the exhibition spaces, my eyes are struck with the richness of artistic, spatial immortalisation, photographs of the landscape and the everyday. Yet it is only when I encounter the series executed by Jungjin Lee that I realise how the lens can capture the reality of the space stored within the depth of one’s mind. Her elongated portraits of primal emotion, strips of nature and time, reveal a delicate awareness of materiality achieved through specific technique. Lee’s photographic experimentation of the real reveals a perceptual photography where the lenses capture the medium in such a manner that they preserve the memory of the place, both spatially and psychologically, the imprinted textural realism being supplemented by the unique technique of projection and printing of the photographs.

Photograph by Junjin Lee
Photograph by Junjin Lee

The translation of the photographic projections onto mulberry paper, formerly prepared with a specific emulsion and their later reprint onto conventional matte photographic paper allows the art pieces to speak for themselves in terms of texture and emotional encasement. Thus, they get closer to a form of painting where the acts of seeing, touching, and memorising through the lenses are finely interconnected.

Photograph by Jungjin Lee
Photograph by Jungjin Lee

A seemingly meditative refuge, the photographs depict derelict and solitary architectural elements within an emptiness of the Palestinian desert, on the brink of disintegration. The 8 photographs exhibited in ‘This Place’ are part of a larger collection entitled the Unnamed Road, which explores the dynamic of a journey, and how, through a dichromatic representation, emotion and texture can be explored in a highly evocative manner.

Photograph by Jungjin Lee
Photograph by Jungjin Lee

I take a seat on the empty bench, black and solitary, and I immerse myself in the space. In front of me there is a portrayal of a corrugated tree, with branches that curve inwards and onwards, almost like a pair of hands in search of the soul. The grey, filigree backdrop of the sky and the tender trace of the horizon tempt the eye to dissolve in a setting of the utmost delicacy.

Photograph by Jungjin Lee

Onto my right side, an interior perspective framed through a skinny structural skeleton arrests my view in a play of descending planes. The curved rope opening up in the middle of the tableau breaks the geometric rhythm of the photograph and introduces a novel element of motion. Next to it there is a splendid imprint of a ruined truck assaulted by a field of flowers. The straight platform becomes a sort of sculptural element that has now become integrated within the living scenery, a revitalisation of the industrial within the organic.

Photograph by Jungjin Lee

Altogether, Lee’s pieces of work are proof of how remembrance, place and camera can all merge within each other, and create an alternative explorative space that doesn’t depict reality in its literal sense, but portrays a distortion of it through the eyes of memory itself. Her photographs allow the lenses to disappear and enable the viewer to access spaces of high materiality and character, almost as if one would be walking past them in a casual stroll around the city – an experiential encounter, just like Berlin itself.