What is Real? What is Constructed? The Trees of Myoung Ho Lee

When I first saw these images I thought these were giant images of trees artificially placed in a landscape. Only on further examination did I realize that these were trees in their landscape, isolated against a large white backdrop and then photographed.

This is the work of South Korean artist Myoung Ho Lee (no website) who photographs solitary trees framed against white canvas backdrops in the middle of natural landscapes. He digitally removes the canvas support system creating an illusion of a backdrop floating behind the tree.

The images create a confusing illusion that blur the definitions of ‘natural’ and ‘constructed’. Looking at these images it is no longer clear what can be considered natural and what can be considered a human construction. The illusion can be so strong that one can, just like I did, imagine the tree itself to be a construction.

This optical illusion reflects our current relationship with the natural world. Every corner of the world is dominated by human influence – be it a city or a human-managed national park. Except in the deluded fantasies of some naturalists and conservationists, the boundaries between natural and constructed have largely disappeared. Nature is now, by and large, human managed and Myoung Ho Lee’s work helps us abandon the delusion of a separation between Man and Nature.

The choice we have is not whether we can return to some romantic fantasy of a pristine and untouched nature but rather we have to choose the ways in which we manage the natural world that is now integrated with our civilization and over which we have almost (though not quite) total control.

Will we wield our power wisely or foolishly? Do we even know what ‘managing nature wisely’ means?

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