“…As I look in the rear-view mirror, I can see the entrance to a cave at the foot of a rocky mountain and it is getting smaller and smaller. Outside of the cave is the angry and tormented young man that I was. He stands erect, his head tilted back with eyes closed, soaking in the sunlight. To his right is my father, not the father I met in New York in 2013, but the one I knew in my childhood, his black hair fluttering gently in the breeze. My stepmother is by his side, no longer harsh and severe. On the left are my imaginary parents from my childhood fantasy, their arms protectively around the young man’s shoulders as they wave at me affectionately. Lahiri is there, too, beaming a large grin and even from so far away, I can see the big gap between his two front teeth. And there is Mr. Chang, offering me one last menthol cigarette. Gerhard is there, too, and he’s calling me a cowboy once more for old time’s sake. And Jennifer, beautiful as an angel, gazing out at me lovingly and tenderly. There are many others in the gathering – my neighbors at the SRO hotel, girlfriends and sworn enemies and one-time friends whom I haven’t seen in ages. They are getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror until they all become dots almost like grains in an enlarged photograph. The shrinking dots are blending together and forming what looks like an image. I can’t quite make it out but I have a pretty good idea what it is. I won’t know for sure until I get a little further along the road that I am now on.
It is sad in a way to leave behind all these people and the experiences that we shared but I have to do it. I want to do it. The moment has come.
It is time to say one last goodbye.”
In his most recent book, One Last Goodbye, Jehsong Baak revisits the early days of his precarious, bohemian youth in New York City in the late 80s. Here we find the young man – living in a humble single room occupancy hotel filled with marginal characters — a new arrival to the city working to establish himself as a photographer.
Frames of negatives that survived a radical purge done by Baak himself, when at age 23 he decided to stop taking pictures, illustrate this chaotic and essential period. Portraits of friends and lovers, photos of collages made of old images of the photographer’s father, lie entwined with photographs taken of New York during return visits to the city after Baak moved to Paris.
The images as well as the photographer’s own words are contemplations about time, death, redemption, that which binds us to family and to the people encountered during his search for light and tenderness. This is a story of the laying to rest of ghosts and demons, of turning the page and moving on.
Jehsong Baak is a Korean-American photographer based in Paris.
Baak left his native South Korea in 1977 for the United States. After North Carolina and Alabama, his family eventually settled in Maryland. Having discovered photography in his teens, Baak left the University of Michigan for New York City to devote himself exclusively to his work. He moved to Paris in 1998.
In 2006, his first book, “Là ou Ailleurs”, (with an introduction by the poet and art critic, Alain Jouffroy) was published in France by Robert Delpire. His second book, “Photographs” was published in 2008 in Amsterdam by the HUP Gallery. “One Last Goodbye” was published in 2016 by Wonderlust Press in Paris.
Baak has had personal exhibitions in Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Istanbul and Milan. In 2011, he was the guest of honor of Paris Photo.
His photographs can be found in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, George Eastman Museum, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, Musée Maillol in Paris, Wilson Center of Photography in London.