As part of the Griffin’s online offerings, we have a quarterly highlighted photobook artist. The artist currently featured is Minny Lee. Her beautiful, one of a kind, hand crafted books are precious objects. Our Executive Director, Paula Tognarelli, is a collector of photo books, and she asked Minny some questions about her work and inspiration.
I am fascinated by your combination of hand crafting of your books and involving a publisher in some of the mechanics. How do you decide when to use a bindery or to work on them yourself. Why Datz Press?
Over the years, I made different kinds of books, from one-sheet folded zines to 270-inch long scroll books with a custom box. Of these books, I published two with Datz Press: Encounters (2015) and Million Years (2018). Making one’s own book allows one to explore a wide range of materials, sizes, and binding techniques. The main reason for working with a publisher is to produce a larger number of books more efficiently. This also helps to disseminate the finished book to a larger audience. The challenge was to find a publisher that could reproduce my hand-made books in accordance with my concept, which was finalized after creating many, many maquettes.
In December 2014, a mutual friend introduced me to Sangyon Joo, the publisher of Datz Press who was living in New York City at the time. I wanted to publish Encounters in time for a solo show in Seoul, South Korea. Datz Press was for me, love at first sight. I loved the sample paper and books that Sangyon brought to our meeting. Luckily, Datz Press was able to make Encounters in an edition of 100 in time for the exhibition. I am eternally indebted to Datz Press for their superb craftsmanship, professionalism, sublime aesthetics, and not compromising.
My final maquette for Encounters was printed on a roll of 44 inch wide and 176 inch long thin rice paper, which contained five strips that I had to cut and fold. Because the images were dark and the paper was thin, it often got jammed. It took me two weeks to make five books. Datz Press, on the other hand, printed three pages per sheet and attached several sheets to make a one-piece accordion. The book surpassed my expectations.
While Encounters was a self-published book, Million Years was a collaborative project. When I showed my latest maquette to Sangyon, she advised me to add more poems and informational text. After I finished with the final maquette, Datz Press enhanced my design. The book turned out much better than my original maquette. Datz Press participates in book fairs in the US and in South Korea and my books are often included in the offered collection. That’s another perk of working with a publisher.
You have mentioned in past conversations with me that you like to make books that the reader/viewer “experiences”. How do you go about doing that?
Books are magical; they bring us to places we may never have been to and expose us to stories that we may have not heard. I consider a book as a time-based medium and an object of art. Books require physical interactions; one must turn the pages to view. The touch of paper and sound of the turning all add to a physical experience of the book.
Encounters measures to 7.5 inch high and 5.5 inch wide. Its small size creates intimate viewing. The title “encounters” is letterpressed onto the front side of the pale blue softcover. The spine does not have anything written on it. Paper is off white. It mimics rice paper. Each spread (two facing pages) allows only one image. Most images sit on the right side of the spread. After thirteen images, a one-page essay appears in pale blue, san serif typeface. When the viewer finishes reading my essay, they may travel to their own memory about nature. That’s my intention or invitation created by this book. The accordion folds allow continuous reading of the book. When the content is pulled out, it stands as a sculptural piece.
With Million Years, the editing and sequencing of the book with images and poetry were placed carefully in order to take the viewer into a lateral journey. There are four foldouts (gate folds). The first foldout has four landscape images without borders, as if it were a panorama. The second foldout has four images slightly different from each other to convey movement of the plane. The third foldout has three different cloud images. The forth one contains a long poem. Perhaps the goal of an artist is to take the viewer into a private experience of the world.
As an art book artist it isn’t about words per se. How do you communicate a narrative? Or is that secondary to the experience?
Narrative can come in different forms. With Encounters, I let the images speak first, utilizing the rhythm and color of pictures. Then at the end, I offer a little narrative about my upbringing in South Korea. With Million Years, images from the West Coast to the East Coast on a single airplane ride in chronological order lead the narrative. Poems in between images reflect on geology of the Earth. I tried to weave images and text together that are not explanatory but complimentary.
To me, the relationship between pages becomes a narrative—the author’s intended journey or path to navigate the book. It’s like a movie. There are feature films and documentary films that are filled with narratives. Then there are experimental and abstract films. They seem not to have narratives but clips are put together in a sequence, which becomes the narrative of the film. Every sequence has an intention of the director who is guiding the viewer’s journey.
How did you connect to books as a way of expression? How was that relationship forged?
The book as a medium is complex and challenging. As a medium of expression, I consider it as total art. A book can be visual, literary, sonic, experimental, performative, meditative, poetic, informative, scientific, investigative, and so on. I am attracted to the book’s ability to intertwine images and text. I take pleasure in designing the book and choosing the materials that meld its form and content together. Just like writing a novel, I can choose different voices, from the first person speaker to the third person speaker. I can travel across different time and place. Every part of the book requires decision-making, from the size of the font to the layouts to the margin of the pages. That deliberate decision-making requires me to be clear about my intention.
When I was young, my father used to ask my siblings and I if we read this book or that book. My father read widely from literature to psychology to philosophy. I felt huge pressure to read to avoid disappointing him. My 8th grade teacher donated 100 world classic literature books to the class. He taught Korean literature and wrote poetry. These two people influenced me greatly. I started to collect books since the mid 90s when I was living in New York. I love books for their intrinsic physicality and their ability to transport me into a different world. When I was studying Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography, I took Susan kae Grant’s bookmaking workshop in 2008. I learned a lot during that two-weekend workshop. Soon I realized that I could make my vision or dream into a book. Over the years, I’ve been asking myself, “What is a book?” Each time I make a new book, I am trying to answer to that question.
What books are in your library?
I will share some of my favorites from my library.
- Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (1), Image – Music – Text (2)
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha – Dictee (1), Apparatus: Cinematographic Apparatus (2)
- Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1), Tender is the Night
- Herman Hesse – Demian (1), Narcissus and Goldmund (2)
- Alexander Von Humboldt Botanical Illustrations
- Carl Gustav Jung – The Red Book (1), Man and His Symbols (2), Memories, Dreams, Reflections (3)
- Li-Young Lee – Rose
- Rollo May – The Courage to Create
- Mary Oliver – A Poetry Handbook
- Sylvia Plath – The Collected Poems (1), The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2)
- Richard Powers – The Overstory
- Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time
- Andrei Tarkovsky – Sculpting in Time
- Henry David Thoreau – Walden (1), Walking (2), A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (3)
- Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds (1), On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2)
- Virginia Woolf – The Waves (1), Orlando: A Biography (2), To the Lighthouse (3)
- Andrea Wulf – The Invention of Nature
- Robert Adams – Summer Night, Walking
- Jehsong Baak – là ou ailleurs
- Barbara Bosworth – Behold (1), Fireflies (2)
- John Cage – 4’ 33’’ (1), Silence (2)
- Harry Callahan – Water’s Edge
- Linda Connor – Luminance
- Joseph Cornell – Wanderlust
- Moyra Davey – Les Goddesses Hemlock Forest
- Roy Decarava – the sound i saw
- Andreas Feininger – The Mountains of the Mind
- Masahisa Fukase – The Solitude of Ravens
- Eikoh Hosoe – Barakei (Ordeal by Roses)
- Bill Jacobson – Place (Series)
- MongGak Jeon – YoonMi’s House
- Sangyon Joo – Grace and Gravity
- Kinsey Photographer: A Half Century of Negatives by Darius and Tabitha May Kinsey
- Hilma Af Klint – Notes and Methods
- Gapchul Lee – Conflict and Reaction
- Wayne Levin – Islands, Jeju
- Danny Lyon – I Like to Eat Right on the Dirt (1), Knave of Hearts (2)
- Amanda Marchand – Night Garden
- Duane Michals – 50
- Daido Moriyama – Dazai (1), Memories of a Dog (2), Farewell Photography (3)
- Philip Perkis – The Sadness of Men
- Gerhard Richter – Atlas
- Michael Schmidt & Einar Schleef – Waffenruhe
- Dayanita Singh – Sent a Letter
- Keith Smith – Structure of Visual Book
- Ralph Steiner – A Point of View
- Larry Sultan – Pictures from Home
- Yutaka Takanashi – Toshi-e (Towards the City): Books on Books No. 6
- Calvin Tomkins – Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews
Who are your muses?
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Kongji (my deceased dog)
Datz Press & Datz Museum
My classmates from the ICP-Bard MFA Program
About Minny Lee –
Minny Lee is a lens- based artist who is currently focusing on making artist’s books. Her work contemplates the concepts around time and space and the coexistence of duality. Lee was born and raised in South Korea and obtained an MA in Art History from City College of New York and an MFA in Advanced Photographic Studies from ICP-Bard. Lee was awarded a fellowship from the Reflexions Masterclass in Europe and participated in an artist-in-residence program at Halsnøy Kloster (Norway) and Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been exhibited at the Center for Fine Art Photography, Camera Club of New York, Datz Museum of Art (S. Korea), Espacio el Dorado (Colombia), Les Rencontres d’Arles (France), Lishui Photo Festival (China) among other venues. Lee’s artist’s books are in the collection of the International Center of Photography Library, New York Public Library, Special Collections at the University of Arizona, Special Collections at Stanford University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amon Carter Museum Library, and many other private collections. Lee was based in the greater New York area for more than twenty years and recently relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii.
See more of Minny Lee‘s work on her website. To learn more about her book projects see her website dedicated to her Artist Books. Follow her on Instagram here.