Youngsuk Suh

Youngsuk Suh lives and works in El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. His photographic work addresses the complex nature of the human involvement in managing natural resources and the shifting concepts of nature in the contemporary society. Over the last 12 years he has completed two major projects, “Instant Traveler” and “Wildfires.” He had solo exhibitions with Haines Gallery, San Francisco, Center for Contemporary Art, Sacramento, Clifford Smith Gallery, Boston, and Gallery ON, Seoul, Korea. His work was also shown at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Seoul International Photography Festival. Today we look at the latest series of images from his Wildfires project, Forest Invisible.

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Forest Invisible

“Forest Invisible” is a narrative of human emotions in nature––our desire, projections and failure. A narrative of nature is always a struggle between two sides: the one who wants to contain the other, and the one that proves the other wrong. But this struggle has been for so long that it is more like a dance than a war. It is an aesthetic experience.

From 2008 to 2012 I have visited these places of struggle and left with bewilderment. There are many different stories told of these fires. In those stories I see our own confusion. The past, the present, and the future come together without any order in this narrative structure and becomes a spectacular display. Not only a display of natural force, but also force of a nation–its identity and economic power. Behind the flailing image of flames and smoke is our fundamental question of who we are and how we live, how we feed ourselves.

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It is hard for me to escape a sense of disaster even at one of the routine control burns on a cloudy day. Disasters annihilate history. One loses a sense of time and direction in the thick smoke. In his book “Young Men and Fire” Norman McClean describes the 1949 Mann Gulch fire that killed 17 smokejumpers as follows:

It was like a great jump backwards into the sky––they were suddenly and totally without command and suddenly without structure and suddenly free to disintegrate and free finally to be afraid.

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It starts with a sense of urgency. Something catastrophic might be happening. But the catastrophe is like a dream. A sweet dream of a young firefighter. He might be thinking of those who have perished in Montana in 1949 or the eighteen firefighters in Arizona. I wish the helicopter is suspended in the air. I don’t remember all their names. Perhaps I am afraid to remember. Fire is a psychological catastrophe.

Although the photographs are from the real events I intend the narrative to be part dream and part memory, in which individuals in a strange world floats around with all crazy ideas like death, end of the world, utopia, and sublime.

To view more of Young’s work, please visit his website.