“The Thou seeks me out. But I am the one who enters into an immediate relationship with that Thou. Thus in this encounter, there is the one who chooses and the one who is chosen, it is both an active and passive encounter (…) The basic word I-Thou can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a Thou to become; becoming I, I say Thou.”
These excerpts from the book I and Thou by philosopher Martin Buber were an inspiration for Japanese photographer Mi-Yeon when creating her series “I and Thou,” on view at the Totem Pole Photo Gallery in Tokyo through March 13, 2022.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Mi-Yeon studied photography in Paris before moving to Tokyo in 1991. Her series are often inspired by philosophy, thought and religion, and her central theme is the certainty and uncertainty of “existence.” Water and sky, trees and their roots, flowers and leaves are recurring elements in her projects. Ever since she was a child, Mi-Yeon has been pondering her own “I” and its place in the world and in relationship to otherness. She pursued this quest as an artist and it is therefore no coincidence that the words of Martin Buber resonated with her. For the philosopher, our relationship to the other constitutes the very foundation of existence.
“The photos from “I and Thou” were taken during my travels, over a period of twenty years. I didn’t take pictures with the notion of “I and You” in mind from the start. I reached that point when I looked at my photos to start composing my series. I realized that I was deeply connected to the object when I took pictures while traveling, and it struck me as being similar to Martin Buber’s notion of “I and Thou.”
In her series “I and Thou,” nature is always visible but this time, the city is more present, as are men and women. The series also gives off the feeling that by photographing the other, the others, the artist is representing herself in front of the elements, as if through otherness, she finally found herself.
“In order to erase location and time information from the images and make them simpler and more universal, I scanned the prints and printed them on various types of Japanese paper, such as washi. For some images, I also tried screen printing or overlaying, after which I re-photographed them.” The “I and Thou” series is made up of images with different hues, but each of them features the same impression of calm, the same balance in terms of colors and composition. They give viewers the impression that the photographer’s world, in all its components, is one.
“I And Thou,” an exhibition of work by Mi-Yeon, on view at the Totem Pole Photo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, through March 13, 2022