ICP Alumni Spotlight: Minny Lee

Minny Lee graduated from the one-year Documentary Photography and Photojournalism (PJ) program at ICP in 2008 and from the ICP-Bard MFA program in 2016. She is currently teaching an Introduction to Photography course for undergraduate students at the University of Hawaii and will participate in the group show, From Walden, at the Datz Museum of Art in South Korea.
Nov 08, 2016
© Minny Lee
© Minny Lee

ICP classes often encourage students to work outside their comfort zone. What was that like?

That challenged me to become a better photographer. For the PJ program, I had to often photograph strangers, which made me feel uncomfortable. It was a constant battle to overcome that fear, but I ended up making some meaningful work. Between the PJ and MFA programs, I worked as an artist for eight years, actively making and exhibiting work. But during the last few years, I was beset with a creative block. I felt I needed a big change. I entered the MFA program, and Nayland Blake’s seminar class helped me to dismantle who I was as an artist and start fresh again. He encouraged me to do whatever felt right at the moment, and sort out details later. He used to say, “They are all your work because you made them.”

How would you describe your experience at ICP?

For me, the best thing I got out of the experience is becoming part of the ICP family, a kind of “one-big-family-working community” kind of feeling—because pretty much everybody supported each other, and there were no barricades between the students and the teachers. We were almost like colleagues, yet the respect and knowledge the teachers imparted were ever present.

What were the resources like?

ICP is not just a school; ICP has a museum with extensive collections and ongoing exhibitions that are open to the public. ICP also has a library with an open-stack policy for their amazing collection of photography-related books. Because ICP is located in New York, you have access to incredible photographers and faculty from all over the world. This is very inspirational; their diversity and expertise is unparalleled.

What was it like after you graduated?

ICP really promotes its alumni and students, and there is a sense of camaraderie amongst different alumni years. This is definitely a big asset that cannot be bought and, I believe, is nonexistent or, at least, less permeable at other institutions. In December 2014, I had a solo show at a photography gallery in South Korea. I didn’t expect to see any ICP people, but five alumni showed up! I thought, “Wow, this is the power of ICP!”

Did your experiences at ICP influence the artist you are today?

I must say, yes. The reason I started taking pictures of trees, which was very crucial for my photography career, is because I was in Giorgia Fiorio’s workshop at ICP. Later, I started to TA for her, and she was generous enough to say, “I’ll look at your work.” I showed her my documentary work and a few tree pictures. She strongly suggested that I focus on tree pictures. That path hadn’t occurred to me, because I was really trying to figure out a way how I was going to become a documentary photographer. I photographed trees for a couple of months, and then she nominated me for the Reflexions Masterclass in Europe, and I was accepted. It really changed me. If I hadn’t met her, if I hadn’t gone to ICP, I don’t know where I would be today. Other sources of light include Alison Morley, Per Gylfe, Jeff Jacobson, Scott Thode, Susan kae Grant, Frank Fournier, Allen Frame, Nayland Blake, Jean-Marie Casbarian, Bill Jacobson, Deirdre Donohue, and Victor Sira. One or two amazing teachers can really change your life as a photographer, but I was fortunate to meet way more than that thanks to ICP.

Interview conducted by Eti Bonn-Muller, globaleditorialservices.com