my first show


i’m one!


© my dad

It’s my blog’s first birthday! Happy birthday to me.

Above, me as a one-year-old, hanging out at the pool, chewing on a… lens cap.

It’s a miracle I learned anything in college.  At least I did a lot of underlining.

© Hee Jin Kang

more secrets?


© Hee Jin Kang

Hmm… how curious.  Ho ho, “For Apple Computers (1.40 MB)“.  I actually just laughed out loud.

(Photographer unknown)

© Hee Jin Kang 2008



From the Red Wing Republican Eagle, April 29, 1974:

From the Red Wing Republican Eagle, undated (my mom is second to the left, with the big hair):

And then…

My folks in Minnesota, circa 1973:

dog portraits


There’s an article in the New York Times about dead multibillionairess Leona Helmsley. In addition to the $12 million that she bequeathed to her own trusted and loyal pooch, Trouble, she has also left BILLIONS of dollars in her will to provide for the welfare of dogs in general. This quote from the article just kills me:

The two people who described [her trust’s mission] statement said Mrs. Helmsley signed it in 2003 to establish goals for the multibillion-dollar trust that would disburse assets after her death.

The first goal was to help indigent people, the second to provide for the care and welfare of dogs. A year later, they said, she deleted the first goal.

Yeah, screw those poor people!

A few years ago, I was invited to dinner with Mrs. Helmsley and Trouble by a friend who, at the time, was working on some real estate dealings with her. We met them at The Park Room, the swanky restaurant at the Park Lane Hotel. Convenient for her as she was living in the hotel penthouse. I’m convinced that she made the hotel close the restaurant to other diners that evening because we were definitely the only ones in that big room, surrounded by a bevy of waiters. When we arrived, Mrs. Helmsley was sitting at a large round table in front of an expansive picture window, holding Trouble on her lap. As I approached her, I felt like I was being fed to the lions. I’m sure she was wearing slippers.

The evening is a blur. There was very expensive wine being poured. I remember she made a remark about some kind of Asian person, but the specifics thankfully elude me now. My dining companions – the friend who invited me and one of Mrs. Helmsley’s right-hand men – looked at each other and at me with knowing apologetic glances.

Mrs. Helmsley perked up when I told her I was a photographer. Oh! I want you to do a portrait of Trouble! she exclaimed. For a few moments, thoughts raced through my head. A dog portrait? How would I do that? Could I use my 4×5? How much would she pay me? What if she didn’t like the pictures?

Then I realized that this dog portrait would never happen. Mrs. Helmsley quickly lost interest in me and once again focused on her prized pal, Trouble. The rest of us sitting at the table made small talk while she cooed at her dog. A few minutes later she said she was tired, shuffled out of the restaurant, and was gone.

Here’s the millionaire dog – pretty cute I guess.

© CBS/The Early Show

the savages


One of my favorite childhood photographs is a snapshot of me and my brother on the beach. I’m wearing my favorite red and white polka dot bikini, perched with both feet atop a sturdy yellow (?) bucket, balanced. My brother is falling over next to me, one foot on his squished bucket, other foot plopped onto the sand, hands akimbo with an exasperated look on his face. My expression? A self-satisfied smile. It’s such a perfectly captured representation of our childhood. While my brother growing up was often hapless in his own way, I smugly got perfect grades, played the piano better, and was the annoying smartypants par excellence.

I watched Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages the other night with pitch-perfect acting by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. My interactions with my brother are nothing as contentious as the Savages’ relationship, but the movie did make me think a lot about the complexities of sibling love, especially as we (and our parents) grow older.

Ironically, I stopped being the great hope for my family when I decided to pursue photography and art as a career. Once the possibility of my becoming a doctor or lawyer ceased to exist, the familial pressure on me was off. My younger brother has taken on the older sibling’s role – my parents turn to him when faced with problems. It’s as if by choosing to be an artist, I was freed of my elder daughter’s duties. Does this mean that my parents think I made irresponsible career choices?

when i’m famous


In a lot of ways, my very first photography class was my favorite. Everything was new to me. Though it sounds trite, the first time a photograph I made emerged on a sheet of paper in the darkroom, it was magical. The photograph itself was nothing special, just a picture of some tombstones in the Grove Street Cemetery. But I was hooked. Instantaneously.

After floundering for a few weeks in search of subject matter, I started taking photographs of my roommates and friends.  Needless to say, I had no problem finding willing collaborators, especially when I started focusing on nudes.  We hadn’t gotten to contemporary color photography in class yet, sticking mainly to more traditional artists. So I was making pictures in the style of Bill Brandt and Harry Callahan.

One of my roommates was always happy to model for me. I think I photographed her the most that year. At the end of term, as I was going through my contacts, she asked me if I could give her all the negatives I took of her. I was surprised. Why would you want those? I asked. Because, when I’m famous I don’t want naked pictures of me floating around, she replied. Seemed like a reasonable request, so I gave her the negatives.

And now she IS famous. So there. At the time, my sophomore-year self thought she sounded arrogant (when I’m famous? not if?) but I guess she clearly knew where she was headed. Of course I would never publish photographs of anyone naked if they didn’t want me to, so she needn’t have worried. But I’m amazed that an 18-year-old could have that kind of assuredness, especially when the rest of us were so green. I wonder if she still has my negatives?