Great Heights

Are these photographs for real? Yes, they certainly are – Korean photographer Ahn Jun may sometimes use a harness if she’s leaning over the side of a building to photograph her feet, but she really is leaning over the side of a building, or leaping up onto its edge.

Her project is titled Self-Portrait and, she says, it’s a kind of performance without an audience. “There was a day when I recalled my adolescent years,” she explains. “I was sitting on the edge of my apartment in New York and looking over the cityscape. I had a thought that suddenly my youth was coming to an end and I could not figure out the future. I sat on the edge and looked down. Then I saw the empty space, the void, and there was a sudden change in my perspective on life and death, present and future. The vision of the cityscape I was witnessing was not real for that moment – I felt the illusion of beautiful buildings was just like the future, or an ideal that we can never reach, but which surrounds us. Then I looked down and saw that what I was actually standing on was empty space. It was ‘the present’ for me. So I took a picture of my feet and that was the start of my project.”


Jun completed a BA in art history at the University of Southern California before going to New York to study photography at the Pratt Institute, then Parsons The New School for Design. She started Self-Portrait while at Pratt, but says working on it took a while as she sometimes had to wait months to get permission to shoot. The buildings she shoots from are a mixture of landmark architecture and places that have personal significance for her, but she always shoots in the same way – setting her camera onto drive mode, she shoots as many images as possible per second until the memory card is full.

“I then review normally thousands of pictures and I pick one or two that can subvert the context,” she says. “For example, images in which my body looks peaceful or aggressive, rather than fearful. It is a certain moment of time that did exist, but which we couldn’t perceive with the naked eye because it happened too fast. I consider the most fascinating aspect of a photographic image to be the elimination of context. It means that the image is isolated from the five senses of human perception and has the possibility to create its own context inside the isolation of space and time. Hence, for me, photography is the reality and the fantasy, the truth and the fake at the same time.”

This ethos also carries through her two other big projects, Invisible Seascape and Float, both of which look, on the face of it, very different from Self-Portrait. This intellectual rigour has helped Jun start to get established in the art world and she has already had solo shows in St Petersburg and Seoul, with another lined up in Hong Kong for 2013, plus a two-person show in Japan. She has also exhibited around the world in group shows, including at St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum and New York’s Aperture Gallery. And she was recommended to BJP by Nathalie Herschdorfer, curator of the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and director of the Alt. + 1000 festival, plus co-curator of the two re-Generation projects with William A Ewing.

Jun Ahn’s solo exhibition Self Portrait opens at the Christophe Guye Galerie on 9 October 2014.

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