The notion of home evokes tranquility and comfort. But home can be a stage where families enact frustrations and anger, longing and desire, and it looks different when seen through the eyes of each member. The point of view of the woman, the mother, consumes the lens in Sunmin Lee’s two series “The Woman’s House I” and “The Woman’s House II.” The gender wage gap in South Korea is the largest among the 36 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, rising in 2018 to a 37.1 percent difference between men’s and women’s pay. Half of all women do not work outside of the home. And inside the home, women are responsible for the majority of all cooking, housework and childcare.
Rather than respite and comfort, Lee’s camera lays bare the exhaustion, clutter and tedium of daily family life for young South Korean mothers, many of whom were taught that finding a mate would be the ultimate life fulfillment. We glimpse in these women the edge, the conflict between the dream they are sold and the reality of the home life. This life is often played out in tight spaces where the lines between adult and child are blurred.
Lee observes extended families, too, the relief and tension that comes with three generations under one roof. Her photos ask: What is family intimacy? Does sharing space foster connection or distance? Where do we put disappointment when it is bound up with love? Perhaps most importantly: what does it mean for a woman to be in her house?
Sunmin Lee was born in Seoul. For 25 years her photography has documented women and families, with an inquiry into identity and their place in Korean society. She is currently working on a portrait project focused on immigrant and older generations.