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Book Review: It Will Be a Better Day


Book Review It Will Be a Better Day By JeongMee Yoon Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words. This may be true, but it might be more accurate to say that photography is best when it defies words. We look to an image to articulate for us what cannot be spoken, what stifles us in the realm of language. It is photography’s great ability to contain a deeper sense of joy, sorrow, fear, and the human condition (as well as nature’s great unwavering beauty), that makes it a medium like no other.

It Will Be a Better Day. By JeongMee Yoon.
PinknBlue, 2014.
 
It Will Be a Better Day
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

It Will Be a Better Day: Korean Modern Short Stories
Photographs by JeongMee Yoon.
PinknBlue, 2014. 80 pp., 16 color illustrations, 10x7½".

A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words. This may be true, but it might be more accurate to say that photography is best when it defies words. We look to an image to articulate for us what cannot be spoken, what stifles us in the realm of language. It is photography’s great ability to contain a deeper sense of joy, sorrow, fear, and the human condition (as well as nature’s great unwavering beauty), that makes it a medium like no other. Conversely, it is the aim of the written word to articulate our thoughts for us, to lend to us a voice that is solid, well put, and on the human level.

It Will Be a Better Day. By JeongMee Yoon. PinknBlue, 2014.

It is a difficult task to take a handful of words and convert them into images, but this is precisely the goal of It Will Be A Better Day by Korean photographer JeongMee Yoon. However, there is an inherent problem with the approach taken. It Will Be A Better Day turns to short stories and attempts to create a single image from those stories that encapsulates their essence, but what is created instead is a tautology, a proliferation via artifice of an inaccessible source; if a student attempted to use the book as a sort of CliffsNotes to the literature for which these photographs are an homage, they would have nothing to write upon.

Is that because the photographs, in and of themselves, are inferior works of art? Not in the least — in fact, the work is quite charmingly narrative and lyrical, but given the context one who engages with It Will Be A Better Day is likely to feel left out; they will have the image, but not necessarily the text behind it.

It Will Be a Better Day. By JeongMee Yoon. PinknBlue, 2014.
It Will Be a Better Day. By JeongMee Yoon. PinknBlue, 2014.

So context is what the book is lacking, which makes for a strange conundrum, as context is precisely what the work is aiming at. It’s not that these images don’t tell a story; each one, to a greater or lesser degree, does do that. The title photograph is whimsical in its portrayal of a man greeting his day and contains a story fully within the work, but we as viewers can only feel that there is more — a whole text more — than we are privy to.

Do I like these photographs, but without being able to engage with the stories that have inspired them, they seem more like studies for a film than successful works of art in their own right.

It Will Be a Better Day. By JeongMee Yoon. PinknBlue, 2014.

Now, all that being said, those who admire the narrative in photographs are likely to find enjoyment despite this lack of a full context. Their treatment of color and of the human condition is well handled. Each work is framed well with an attention to setting, narration, and style: think Miles Aldridge’s highly stylized fashion photos or Lori Nix’s built worlds.

Had JeongMee Yoon taken her inspiration from the short stories she attempts to contain in the works and presented the photographs to us as a narrative body without the baggage of context, they would feel more successful. Some advice to those who would engage with It Will Be A Better Day  skip the text in the book, enjoy the work as a whole in dialogue with nothing but that which is represented by the photographs themselves. Don’t allow yourself that feeling of half-understanding that is a bi-product of this admirable, though failed attempt and remember that pictures defy words while words stand in for pictures.—CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON


CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is an artist, radio host, and poet living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His reviews, interviews, and essays on poetry can be read in the Philadelphia Review of Books. Johnson also hosts the radio program Collected Words on 101.5 KVSF, where he interviews authors, poets and artists.

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