In Yong Hee Kim’s delicate photographs of cherry blossoms, an ephemeral part represents the beloved whole. -Russell Hart, Courtesy American Photo magazine
A blooming cherry tree is such a beautiful thing to behold—and so invested with human notions of natural perfection, especially in the cultures of east Asia—that an artist depicting it may struggle to rise above pure representation. This difficulty is still greater in photography because of the medium’s literal inclination. Yet photographers have long been seduced by the cherry’s ineffable pink blossoms, called Sakura in Japan, where its namesakes have included the country’s first color film and its first commercial camera.
So it was aesthetically brave that Yong Hee Kim, in his first photographs of cherry blossoms, chose to sap their very color—shooting them with flash against the sky’s dark zenith and printing them in black and white with such density that they struggle to emerge from the surface of the print. Unable to resist the blossoms’ hue, the South Korea-born photographer has since returned to depicting them in color. His color images don’t represent cherry trees as rooted beings, though. Instead, they form abstract networks of branches exploding with blossoms.
Kim’s show will be up for only seven days, because that’s about how long cherry trees hold onto their blossoms before depositing them in a pink carpet on the ground below. That’s also the time period during which the artist created the entire body of photographs that is on display.