THE PHOTOGRAPHER AHAE
It is the natural world in all its vibrant purity that breathes through the artworks of the Korean photographer Ahae. In his attempt to capture the passing of time and the beauty of his surroundings, Ahae has produced a strong message regarding the responsibility we have towards the world in which we live. His photographs explore the natural environment, which he has worked to protect since the 1970s. He can be described as an inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, environmental activist, martial artist, painter, sculptor, poet, and photographer. Ahae’s name is linked with international organic farming and nature conservation projects, and his photographic works became a logical progression from his focus on nature and how we perceive it.
In the past two decades, Ahae has sought out suitable land upon which to put into practice his organic lifestyle concept, focusing on the interconnection between nature protection, organic farming, and healthy blood—this being the key to a healthy body. Just as in his photographs, Ahae depicts the natural world as it is, in his farming activities, he does all that is possible to allow nature to live as it was intended to live, without the interference of man and man-made additives of any kind. Two organic tea plantations under Ahae’s supervision in South Korea now have USDA 100% organic certification, as does 123 Farm—the largest organic lavender farm in Southern California—of which Ahae is chairman of the board of directors.
It was during the 1970s that Ahae first became active in the photographic field; he started collecting cameras and taking photographs, and this continued through the 80s. In those years, however, time and other commitments would not allow him to pursue this art form with the intensity that he desired. He was forced to apply his hand elsewhere and had to wait a couple of decades before he was able to take up his camera once more. By that time, the field of photography had developed to such a tremendous extent technologically that he was able to grant his artistic qualities their full free range.
Recently, in the course of four years, Ahae took more than 2.6 million photographs—all from just one window of his studio—recording the countless episodes that took place within his view amongst the creatures with whom we share our planet. It was selections from these photographs that were on display at the first Through My Window exhibition at Grand Central Terminal in spring, 2011.
During these four years Ahae was to be found at his window every day, come rain or shine, recording every natural feature and scene that catches his eye. Most of these episodes go unnoticed. Ahae not only sees them, but through his art, he attempts to bring them to the view of the rest of the world. Scenes pastoral and comic, dramatic and tragic, dynamic and serene, enchanting and breathtakingly beautiful are captured through his lens.
With the artist’s eye for light, color and detail, Ahae captures landscapes and wildlife in all four seasons; moments in time that may never occur again. He draws us into the natural scene with all its intimate moments and then allows us to stand back and bathe in the serenity of the whole. Ahae takes us from morning’s first light to the day’s last glimmer, through spring, summer, autumn, winter, through all the mood swings of the seasons as they change, and through the movements of the sun and the moon.
Not wishing to disturb the natural scene on his studio set beyond his window, Ahae does not even permit himself the luxury of air-conditioning in the hot and humid Korean summer. His open window exposes him to the bitter cold and winds of winter and the burning hot sun and mosquitoes of the warmer months. Each shot is taken individually, he seldom uses a tripod, even when handling the largest of cameras with the longest of lenses, and he never uses any artificial lighting.
The result is an “organic” image of the changing scenes of nature outside Ahae’s window in photographs that present very direct and frank views, revealed through natural light.
Since Ahae takes an average of 2,000 to 4,000 photographs every day, it has become necessary to establish a photo-processing station to facilitate the archiving of the constant flood of photographs. This is operated by Ahae Press, Inc. During processing, in keeping with Ahae’s philosophy of maintaining natural integrity, there is absolutely no manipulation of photographs, such as colour alteration, cutting and pasting, combining of photographs, or introduction of foreign elements into the images; only clean-up of photographs (aligning, spot-removing, and minor contrast and light correction) is allowed before the final works are printed.
Ahae’s collection of cameras has increased over time so that he now uses a wide range of equipment, including the highest quality 35mm and medium format cameras and all the different sizes of lenses available on the market, including some very rare collectors’ items. All of the Through My Window collection of photographs were taken using state-of-the-art digital cameras. Top-of-the-line, long-range telephoto lenses were used for most of the animal images in the collection, while a variety of medium format cameras were used for the scenery shots.
The amazing accomplishment of producing one million photographs in two years through just one window has never before been attempted, let alone carried out. The additional fact that Ahae’s photography involves no artificial lighting, no staging, and no manipulation during editing underlines the unique nature of this project, making it all the more vital that these photographic works should be brought to the public eye.
In a recent interview, Professor Milan Knížák, former General Director of the National Gallery in Prague, said that “all the photographs of today have some social meanings and they are over sophisticated” and that “to meet [Ahae’s photographs] was like a miracle…so simple, so beautiful and so perfect.” As an artist, Ahae puts great emphasis on honesty and simplicity: characteristics that are sadly disappearing from today’s art world. Photographic works such as Ahae constantly produces are oftentimes dismissed as “ordinary”.
It should be understood, however, that it is actually very difficult to capture such natural beauty without the application of artificial or synthetic elements.
This is the case when it comes to all forms of modern art and music. It is becoming more and more difficult to find “true” artists who have both the skills and creative talent needed to produce works that are new, demonstrate technical excellence, and hold deep significance. People no longer understand the importance of fine art; indeed its very definition is becoming more and more vague as the simple natural beauty of the world around us is buried deeper and deeper under the mountain of an ever-growing civilization characterized by many aspects that are artificial and man-made.
Ahae’s aim is not just to produce wonderful photographs; he also wants to open everyone’s eyes to be able to see the wealth of life that is right there beside them if they just look out of the window. Capturing, as he does, the passing of time and the beauty of the nature surrounding him, the message Ahae broadcasts to the world as he exhibits his photographs comes through loud and clear: open your eyes, see the amazing and very precious natural world around you, and do whatever you can to protect it before it is too late. Ahae wishes to make people aware of their immediate surroundings. Today, there are many voices that cry out for awareness in regard to global warming and other environmental issues, but such matters are very difficult for individuals to embrace in their daily lives.
For many years, Ahae has been cultivating and protecting the scene that meets his eye when he looks out from his studio window. As a result of his dedication to the protection of his natural surroundings, he has been able to photograph over twenty percent of all the birds that visit the Korean Peninsula. Deer and other animals also run around freely on this small stretch of land where the changes in season are reflected in a kaleidoscope of colors and even the weeds can radiate their natural beauty against a sky of resplendent light. Ahae has always sought to lead by example, this being another case in point. If we look around at our surroundings, we, too, can discover much of our natural heritage that is worth protecting and nourishing.
Ahae’s photographs that show the changing seasons and dynamic sky are especially meaningful. Nature has a resilience beyond any human comprehension. After a long, cold winter during which everything appears to be dead, nature is able to fill the world with an unimaginable and incomprehensible abundance of life, not just once, but over and over again as year follows year. We, on the other hand, experience our physical condition growing ever weaker as the years pass and we grow older. Nevertheless, the life force in the natural world surrounding us gives us a great sense of hope. In just one patch of sky within Ahae’s view from his window, countless different scenes are played out and captured with the click of a button on the photographer’s camera. Momentary impressions of sunlight, moonlight, and clouds create images the beauty of which cannot be described adequately in words.
2.6 million photographs through one window in four years. Or is it just four years? Ahae’s collection that is now being brought to the public is actually the result of a life time of observation and endeavor. Through these photographic works we see not only the artist, but also the naturalist and conservationist, and above all we see a man who sees life, and a man who wants us to see that life as well.