Simple Photos From South Korea Light Up the Grand Galleries of Versailles

For the past four years, morning till night, the South Korean photographer Ahae, 72, has taken up to 3,000 digital photographs each day of nature, undisturbed — the setting sun, ripples of water, foraging deer, woods dusted by a snow flurry — from a single window on the first floor of his home near Seoul.Starting today at the Orangerie garden at Versailles, 200 of his large- and medium-format prints from the project will be on view for the first time in 10 linear galleries.

Last year, Ahae exhibited selections of the same series in a special pavilion erected by the Louvre in the Tuileries garden, which is where Catherine Pégard, the president of the Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles, first learned about it. With the help of Ahae’s son Keith Yoo, who manages the artist’s exhibitions, Pégard arranged the Orangerie exhibition, which marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s visionary landscape architect who designed the park at Versailles.

The never-before-seen images are organized in a way that creates a kind of surrealist representation of a single day. The collection begins with a serene shot of water deer in the early morning, like sentries inviting observers to experience the passage of time. From one gallery to the next, the sun and clouds move and animals roam across seasons of Ahae’s static landscape. Ahae’s self-imposed constraint — the physical outline of his open window — makes the reality he captures that much more vivid. With a fixed viewpoint, nature’s subtle movements interact with each other over time, forming a more meaningful whole. The guilelessness of the subject matter is further heightened by the manicured neatness of the exhibition’s surroundings. That is a contrast which the exhibition’s organizers, who have previously brought work by Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami at the Palace, strived to achieve.

According to Yoo, Ahae’s work can be distilled to a simple message. “My father believes, as a naturalist, one should open your eyes and see the natural world around you,” he explained, “and do whatever you can to protect it before it is too late.”

“The Extraordinary Within the Ordinary: Photography by AHAE” is on view at the Versailles Orangerie from June 25 through Sept. 9. Admission is free.

By Natalie Rinn
The New York Times Style Magazine June 25, 2013