Color me socialized
What's behind a pink photograph by South Korean artist JeongMee Yoon?
In this smart, direct, clear, sad photograph, the South Korean photographer JeongMee Yoon (born 1969) shows all the pink possessions of her daughter Seo Woo, who was 5 when the photo was taken. This highly intelligent photo makes you wonder whether it is truly necessary, right and healthy to live amid so many objects. To live in the midst of so many things similar in color, texture and consumer message: dresses, bibs, gloves, a Hello Kitty watch, pencils, glasses, bags, spoons, sandals, flip-flops, sweets, tiny bottles of nail polish, kitchen utensils, dolls, chains, bracelets, rings, a toy hair drier, eraser, notebooks, Barbie boots and Seo Woo herself, in the upper right, pink in a forest of polyethylene.
JeongMee Yoon studied in the United States, lived in Queens, New York, and returned to South Korea at the end of 2006. The photograph of her daughter was the first in a series of images of girls – and later of boys, with blue objects – titled “The Pink & Blue Project.”
She describes her working method on her website (www.jeongmeeyoon.com): children and their parents − both Asian and non-Asian people she knew or found through ads in New York − gathered and arranged all the objects ahead of the shooting. The children exhibited their possessions for her. The site contains photographs of older girls in their rooms, some of them dressed like princesses, and some who were photographed at intervals of a few years. The less disturbing rooms resemble supermarkets. In the truly unsettling images, the rooms seem to belong to hoarders.
JeongMee Yoon explains that the girls’ taste for pink (all the girls, irrespective of ethnic and cultural background) is dictated by consumerism, advertising and globalization. In fact, until the beginning of the 20th century red and shades of red belonged to men. And it is not only the color that speaks; the role of the objects is also dictated and uniform. The girls have pink objects from the realm of cosmetics and the domestic household, while the boys have blue objects from the realm of transportation, science and the world of dinosaurs.
JeongMee Yoon is a superb artist. Her site features a series of black-and-white photographs taken in a zoo, including one of the saddest gorillas I have ever seen. “The Pink & Blue Project” is stunning in its breadth and its directness: aware of itself and of its messages and aesthetic. It tends toward the didactic, but is perfectly executed, and it becomes clear amid the objects that despite the children’s sweetness and the personality reflected in their facial expressions, these are not portraits of them. They are portraits of consumers.
Thus, one can view this photograph and understand that it is not someone else’s girl. It is also possible to escape all this, to give the girls pink swords and dinosaurs and allow the boys to play with dolls. You can do what you want: not cooperate, buy less, not buy at all, diversify the colors. Consider it a gray area.
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