LEE Jeonglok
(Korean, b.1971)
Lives and works in the Republic of Korea
LEE Jeonglok’s Tree of Life series depicts brilliantly white trees against colored backgrounds. The leaves have been replaced by white bulbs that illuminate the surrounding landscape. Although the final photograph may appear to be digitally constructed, Lee actually builds a tree and later installs it in a selected location to photograph.

Inspiration for this series was gathered with opposite features from Still Life art, as Lee wanted to depict what lingered in his imagination and emotions. In myths, we discuss other worlds that linger beyond our own, perceived to be out of our grasp. These worlds inspire us, and Lee believes that there is still hope in finding them. By using photography rather than drawing as his medium of choice, his artwork maintains an essence of reality while simultaneously displaying his imaginary worlds.

Lee Jeonglok was born in Korea. He graduated with his MFA in Fine Art Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology. His works have appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout Asia and the U.S. including Soul Art Space, Busan; The Museum of Photography, Seoul; Decoding Scape; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung; Pontone Gallery, London; Chapelle de hotel Dieu, Dreux, France; Art Museum of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangzhou, China; Foto Istanbul, Kabatas, Istanbul, Turkey; Master of Light, Shine Artist, London, United Kingdom and many more. His works are held in the permanent collections around Korea.


The Tree of Life series began in the winter of 2006. It was a freezing winter with bitter winds. I saw a glimpse of green at the tip of a bare branch. “Did I really see it then?” Whatever it might have been that I saw, a seed of life must have been embedded inside that dry branch devoid of vitality, like all the trees that have to endure the long, barren winter. Although not clearly visible, it is without doubt that this vitality exists. This is not the only invisible thing that exists in this world! This was a kind of awakening.Awareness of something that exists in spite of its invisibility.

Invisible yet they exist, interacting with the visible world. They correspond to each other. I wanted to express this in my work. I struggled to find a way to express the vitality dormant in a dry branch. Going through a series of experiments, I began to use light. Light was the most appropriate medium to express the vitality that I discerned. Moreover, the sublimity of light is a universal archetype of mankind like the numinousness of trees. My work began from here.

I needed to handle three different lights – natural light, flashlight and searchlight – for this series of work.In addition to trees, other props were required and many different kinds of films were needed for changing light and atmosphere of each day. It was impossible to controlrandom outdoor situations that I had to face daily. It was not uncommon that outdoor sets that were built for several months would be destroyed by worsening weather conditions.

The second Tree of Life series was made in an indoor studio. After having gone through a tiresome three-month test period inside the studio, valid data began to be accumulated. It took more than four years to learn how to control the light in Trees of Life.

A tree of life’s light does not illuminate the world or the outside of the tree. Instead, it reveals the interior space, the aura of existence. For this reason, I wanted that light to be subtle, not so spectacular. As experiments continued, the work process for the Tree of Life series has become stabilized. As the background was transferred from a natural setting to a stage, it became more dramatic with the aura of the tree of life further intensified.

As I learned to manipulate variations of light to some degree, I wanted to see what kind of effects would be created when a tree of life meets nature full of vitality. Searching for a site that cherishes the deep echoes of nature, I arrived at Jeju Island. I was awestruck standing in front of Jeju’s unique and alien nature that is extremely vibrant, almost fearsome. It took two months beforeI was able to set up my camera in front of this primordial nature that exceeds any interpretation. I found a tree that resembles Jeju Island and worked at seashores, farms, or forests imbued with special inspirations. Although my long indoor experience enabled me to handle flashlight skillfully, outdoor photography was still a huge challenge. At least a week’s work was required just to obtain basic data from a site. Jeju’s windy and capricious weather was never predictable and films needed to be sent back by air for development.

A tree of life that has emerged in the world again is a gate that connects the visible and invisible worlds or the chasm between them. Light stands for the communion between the visible and invisible worlds. The tree of life symbolizes the interaction between these two different worlds as it is. Our industrialized contemporary society is laden with various stimulations that make us oblivious of life’sfundamental source. I wanted to create a site where the vitality of nature and the substantial world embedded in us meet. Beyond a mere communication with nature, I hope we will be reminded of the waves from the invisible world that have been always influencing ourlife and history.


An artist must meet the eleven different requirements in order to shoot a series of ‘Tree of Life’. First of all, three different types of light are needed, i.e. a natural light, a flash and a searchlight. Five different types of film (size 4X5) are used as the color is different depending on what film it is. It is mainly because that basic color from each film turns to be different due to a long time of exposure. Smoke must be sprinkled and two cameras are needed, i.e. a main camera for filming and a camera behind it for popping the flash. However, these conditions are not sufficient to overcome spontaneously occurring situations at field works. For this reason, the new works in this exhibition are conducted in an indoor set. It was built right after the outdoor set was damaged by heavy rain last summer. However, the indoor space did not solve all problems. He could fathom out several occasions after a three-month-long boring test. The works submitted to this exhibition have been built in this way. An artist who saw the light of the moment reflected on the sprouts in the end of persimmon tree had to spend more than four years to reproduce the scene. Furthermore, these works make it possible to taste the new depth of the writer’s art as good as the time before his private exhibition of ‘private sacred place’ is in the formally experimental stage. It is the sublimity the artificial light has created. He proved that the sublimity was possible even though he did not intervene in the unknown tree of life with any story.

Those who entered deep into a world have a way they created to reach there. When they leave for a way to the unknown world, they overcome their anxiety in a firm attitude although it is not perfect. The lives of ordinary persons are the same. So not to mention the art worlds of the artists are future-oriented and full of enthusiasm even though they are incomplete. It is due to their will of creative production that makes the field of their imagination. So it is right to say that artists must carve their ways as the counterattack of the images produced by artists’ delicate observation lead us to a new world. What we need to take note once again is that Jeonglok LEE also was the start of romantic sensitivity. The photos of ‘Tree of Life’ as the rebound of city taste are different from the pictures of landscape that stays at the contemplation of nature. It means that those landscapes have stayed with a material of nature as a reaction against the age of urbanization and mechanization. The artist expressed nature, an incorrupt source with a tranquil greatness that the light possesses.

The artist realizes the abstract concept of a shape as a perfect thing even more than any other original one. It was designed to “express a spiritual feeling or imagination for a certain place and object rather than reproduce a particular landscape” as clarified in the artist note. He made it possible to keep the feeling of the moment forever when he discovered the light on the sprouts through his imagination. It is a fantastic scene as if a magic spelled tree sings a song to us as much as the wavelength of the light. He wanted to prove the existence of God through the nature he observed in his own vision. He “aroused mysterious and religious awe and respect by painting terribly silent and desolate landscape” as Friedrich, Caspar David did.
- JEON Seung Bo / 2008 

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