For anyone who has walked in the woods, particularly in the autumn, these images will feel familiar—they bring to mind the rustle of dry leaves and the crack and snap of twigs beneath one’s boots, the slight tang of decomposition and decay on the forest floor. Seung Jae Kim created these evocative monochromatic works in various wilderness areas of the upper Midwest. Born in South Korea, Kim came to Chicago to do his MFA in fine art photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and fell in love with the Midwest, particularly the terrain resulting from glaciers. The images speak of Kim’s affinity for nature and his relationship and feelings of inclusion within the natural world.
Kim says he prefers “hikes in Midwest forests where the absence of grandiose sceneries reveal instead many small ice age moraines and dunes.” On his hikes he has found and photographed animal tracks and resting places and, on occasion, an animal boneyard. As the piece titled “An Animal Rest in Peace” depicts, bones are scattered as randomly as a game of jackstraws. And yet, in Kim’s image, there is a sacred quality in this arbitrary collection of bones.
In the image titled “Tree Shadows on Bare Trees in Blue Hills Park, West Bend, WI,” the fallen snow provides a raw canvas for the intersection of undulating shadows and vertical tree trunks to form a fascinating graphic design. In both “Fairway of Paradise Golf Club” and “Abandoned Fair Field at Paradise Golf Club,” thousands of fine grasses fall over one another unrestrained in wild disorder, but there is a softness to these two images, as if they would form ready nests for forest creatures.
“Looking Down Water Reflections through Woods, Ridge Run Park, WI” feels almost like a multilayered textile design—a pattern formed by sunlight on the water, overlaid with graphic line drawings of delicate trunks and branches. To walk through these large-scale black-and-white photographs—printed on matte paper held to the wall simply with magnets—is to walk through the woods in the fall. Seung Jae Kim’s fascination is the viewer’s gain—his respect for nature is apparent in his photographs, reminding us of the increasingly fragile condition of our earth.
“Seung Jae Kim: Misread Affinity” is on view at the Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central, Evanston through December 17.