Gap-chul Lee began his career as a documentary photographer and recently gained prominence in the contemporary art field for works that confuse the boundary between the real and the unseen. Photography serves as a medium to draw out the deeply embedded unconsciousness of the mind and to portray the Korean peninsula—its landforms and countryside, its agrarian and folk cultures—as the site of profound spiritual and emotional presences. Lee conceives images through long silences in which he explores the unconsciousness of a sensibility that has removed reason from the heart and mind.
Thirteen black-and-white photographs selected from the series Conflict and Reaction (1990–2002) express the joy, sorrow, and gaiety that have persisted throughout Korean history. Lee captures the invisible through the most visual medium via shamanic and Buddhist rituals meant to console the soul of the dead. Photographs depicting a shaman woman removing a bloody ox head mask during a ritual for protecting people from evil, people preparing for a traditional ceremony for their deceased relative, and a solemn Buddhist ceremony for the one who attained nirvana to probe the realm of the unconscious beyond the perceptible world. Informed by Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist thinking, as well as ancestral shamanism and indigenous religion, these images reveal the death, sorrow, and souls that wander around or are embedded in all creations and the unpredictable yet vital spiritual energy of Korean culture. By exposing this dynamic ambience through the pictures’ distorted figuration, composition, focus, and rough black-and-white particles, Lee expands the work of his Energy series (2004–ongoing), which documents the profound existence of feeling beyond appearing.