Jocelyn Lee’s ‘Night Swimming at Quansoo’

In the summer of 2019, Jocelyn Lee embarked on a new series of photographs, made in low light on a medium format camera. More experimental than the work produced earlier in her career, Lee’s latest work revels in spontaneity as well as the element of chance, both of which occur when photographing in the dark.

The nude figure is central in many of Lee’s works, and, as with much of Lee’s oeuvre, Night Swimming at Quansoo places the nude figure within nature. Through her works, Lee has undertaken a phenomenological exploration of how our bodies are enmeshed in an ever changing, ephemeral world. Night Swimming at Quansoo depicts three women who stand, statuesque, or recline, partially submerged in a waterway that snakes its way through an inky landscape. The glassy surface of the water reflects the women’s bodies, as they become a part of the landscape itself.

The women depicted are monumental, and their bodies react and relate dynamically to their setting. Lee worked with groups of up to five women for this latest project, allowing for an ‘incredibly fresh and collaborative’ atmosphere, as Lee describes it. Lee works on a medium format camera on a tripod, and has sought to reach the medium’s limitations with this new work. She states that, ‘because I’m photographing in the early evening and at night, I frequently can’t see what’s happening on the ground glass. It’s dark. I can only see the image when the flash bursts.’ Photographing at night, or in low light, often in the water or lit by firelight, Lee has stated that ‘the work feels raw and mysterious in a way early photographs did. There are surreal mistakes and surprises I could never have imagined or invented on my own.’

Night Swimming at Quansoo feels particularly potent to release now, in the summer of 2020, a year on from the body of work’s initial conception. It speaks to society’s renewed connection to nature and the outside world, but also to a sense of unity, not just with nature, but also between the figures as they stand together within the landscape. The work simultaneously reflects on connection and solidarity, as well as on the individual and the feelings of unease and isolation in an ever changing, volatile world.

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