Alfred Stieglitz, the father of modern photography, once famously remarked, "Claims of art won’t do. Let the photographer make a perfect photograph. And if he happens to be a lover of perfection and a seer, the resulting photograph will be straight and beautiful—a true photograph." Ahae, a Korean naturalist and photographer in his 70s, has dedicated himself to the creation of such "true" photographs for the past two years from his isolated studio located in the countryside south of Seoul. From a single window of his studio, where he lives and works, Ahae has focused his camera on one subject for over two years—the view outside his window—and has captured more than one million pictures of the natural habitat outside. In an era when traveling to far-flung places with the perfect gear in search of the perfect moment in the perfect place has become de rigueur, Ahae surprises us with the revelation that the most poignant and beautiful photographs can be captured within the most familiar locales that are often invisible to us.
Stieglitz also said, "Utopia is in the moment. Not in some future time, some other place, but in the here and now, or else it is nowhere." The first time I looked at Ahae’s pictures, I got the distinct feeling that he’s that rare photographer who shoots to experience this utopia in each moment. Completely present and one with his sole subject, Ahae renders something as quotidian as a single view outside a window into a novel celebration of nature across its varying moods and elements.
"Through My Window," an exhibition of 100 prints painstakingly chosen from Ahae’s million photographs, is a project with which I fell in love with all my heart. So enchanting to me was the story of this septuagenarian living and working in a remote place in Korea that I flew to the country to look at his work myself. One of Ahae’s most ardent patrons, his son Keith Yoo took me through the extraordinary story of his father’s love for photography and environmental conservation, and I returned home with the resolve to bring Ahae’s work to New York City. Ahae’s dedication to nature resonated deeply with my personal vision of integrating environmental consciousness within all of my company’s practices. The purity of his photographs and the simplicity with which they turn even the most repetitive scenery into stunning visual poetry is a story I believed was essential to share with a wider audience.
Ahae’s tenacity and relentless dedication to his photography is a natural extension of his extraordinary life journey. Born in Kyoto during World War II, Ahae embarked on an artistic, experimental journey from the very beginning. Using his painting and drafting skills, he became a master in making masks. He acquired a seventh-degree black belt in Taekwondo and became highly trained in Judo. He then invented consumer items like paper soap, industrial products such as safety boats and health products like the self-colonic irrigation system for which he won three gold medals for invention in Switzerland, Germany and Korea. Ahae has registered more than 1,000 patents and trademarks throughout his career. He now operates organic farms in the U.S., Canada and Korea, with his two farms in Korea being the first to be USDA 100% organically certified.
Ahae’s photography is imbued with this extraordinary pedigree of invention and environmentalism. It’s his deep desire to learn from nature and to commune with it that led him to limit himself to his studio in the countryside in Korea and embark on the extraordinary journey of discovery through his window. Ahae shoots with the relentlessness of a perfectionist—taking an average of 2,000 to 4,000 photos a day. His photo-processing station in his country studio edits, labels and stores thousands of photographs every day. Choosing 100 of the most powerful pictures from such a formidable body of work was no small task and took more than six months of editing.
Once we acquired permits to showcase Ahae’s works in the Grand Central Terminal, the Duggal exhibition design team developed a design theme that would transport the audience in a concrete jungle straight to the pristine locales of the Korean countryside. We went on to employ 70,000 pounds of steel structure to create the installation system for Ahae’s works. We produced a total of 100 photographs that ranged from a small 11×17 inches to a grand 16×32 feet on a variety of materials, from Plexi-mounted frameless photos to Duratran light-boxes. The largest piece in the show was a 16×32-foot lightbox, a breathless landscape providing the signature to the exhibit. We built this giant light-box in-house with LED lights and wrapped the photograph around it on a backlit material. The metal edges were finished in fabric to give it a completely natural feel. To communicate the magnitude of Ahae’s voluminous shooting, we created a slideshow of 1,200 of his images and projected it on a screen sized 26×32 feet.
On April 29th, New York City commuters at the Grand Central Terminal awoke to a resplendent oasis of nature created by Ahae’s beautiful photographs that revealed the view outside his window in varying seasons and their colors, clouds, birds, animals—a body of work so versatile that no one could believe these pictures were all shot from a single window. The magic in each photograph was highlighted by the luminescent backdrop of the lightboxes. This visual sanctum became a sacred space in the middle of the terminal, where weary commuters paused, contemplating the poetry and purity of nature at its purest, and refreshed their spirits.
Ahae and his team were so impressed by our work that today the Duggal team is working with Ahae on printing and mounting his entire fine-art collection, as well as designing and installing his exhibitions, creating his book and collector portfolios, and even marketing his art to collectors. Duggal is now taking Ahae’s work to the National Gallery in Prague. Keith Yoo, Ahae’s son and CEO of Ahae Press, describes our partnership with Ahae: "It is very simple. Both Mr. Duggal and my father expect the best in the world and pursue the finest artistic goals possible. They both believe in living green and protecting our environment. So it’s natural that we chose Duggal Visual Solutions as our partner."
Ahae has given us all a true gift of beauty through his photography, but more importantly, he has stirred in us something far more essential—the impetus to reconnect with our immediate environs and to see and revel in what’s right around us. At the end of his long career as an artist, Stieglitz turned to photographing clouds, explaining, "I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life—to show that the success of my photographs was not due to subject matter—not to special trees or faces, or interiors, to special privileges, clouds were there for everyone."
Ahae’s work in the same manner reminds us that we’re always surrounded by beauty, and it’s for us to reach out and experience right outside our windows when we’re ready for it.