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In his latest work, Junsik Shin, a recent photography graduate of New York City’s Parsons School of Design, takes his camera into the Zen temples of America and his native Korea. In his most recent project, entitled “Ee Mut Ko?” (“What Is This?”), his eye follows not the ornate interior artwork or the sweeping curves of the temple architecture, but the monks themselves, absorbed in meditation. It is both an utterly familiar subject and an unexpectedly fascinating one, for who would have thought that the thing itself, sitting meditation, could be so visually arresting? Part of the answer lies in Junsik’s method: “I open the shutter when the monks begin to meditate, and I don’t close it again until they’ve stopped. The exposure is solely dependent on the length of their sitting session—anywhere from one to three hours.” A stick of incense records the passage of time in each frame: As the incense burns down, its red ember casts a line across the exposure.

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Perhaps what is most remarkable about the photographs is their stillness. An open exposure will capture, over time, the slightest movements, and yet many of these monks appear in remarkable clarity. Junsik’s purpose, however, is not to glorify the meditative prowess of the monks, but to reveal the strength of their will and their commonality with us in the struggle for enlightenment. “They suffer from the inevitable imperfections of being human, as do all of us. Their small movements are evidence of the mind’s struggle for awareness, and are symbolic of the human struggle to reach enlightenment.”

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Photography by Junsik Shin

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