By Nadia Urbina, Oct. 12, 2021

Passengers arriving or departing from the John Wayne airport can momentarily alleviate their traveling experience by visiting the alluring photograph exhibition by Cal Poly Pomona visual communication design professor, Crystal Yachin Lee.

Inspired by the essence of nature and its complexity, Lee’s exhibition titled “Ciel,” which translates to “sky” in French, features 21 photographs that embrace negative space which emphasizes the subject in her work.

“I think culture influences me; I am originally an international student from Taiwan, so I was educated more in the Asian art setting rather than Western art,” Lee said. “In Asian art, we don’t consider a lot of empty space as empty space. We consider empty space as part of the composition. The goal is to feel the canvas, feel the composition.”

Lee’s digital photography exhibition involves digital enhancement and encapsulates hot-air balloons in the midst of flight. Lee’s “Ciel” photographs taken on a summer trip Lee had in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. The stillness of the colorful balloons makes for an immersive scene.

Bolero 35 in Lee’s ‘Ciél’ exhibit as pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Yachin Lee)

According to Lee, to achieve a certain of level of intensity, and to execute her vision for the photograph exhibition, she utilized digital enhancement techniques. “The color of the sky, I matched with one of the sky colors from Newport Beach to get that level of intensity. The sky is actually from Newport Beach, the composition is French Canadian,” said Lee. In order to achieve perfect composition for the photo, Lee edited out the tourists with selfie sticks and children on their parent’s shoulders.

Along with the use of empty space, Lee utilizes the motto “less is more” when it comes to her body of work. Her photography features a selective amount of objects, and it portrays balance and simplicity.

“It started off with the tendency to declutter. I’m the type of person that likes to declutter. When I take images, even tourist photos, there are times that there are photobombs in image. This is when designers use digital tools,” Lee said. “We all know that everyone has got a little thing in them, certain things we do, and we find very successful, and we go maybe a little further. That would be the times that I’m taking images and say, ‘Wow this looks great but what if that tree is not there?’”

While others are inclined to label themselves as an artist or photographer, Lee describes herself as a designer due to her past work as an exhibition designer for The Planning Research Design Group (The PRD) in Northern Virginia.

“Designers design according to objective. The idea of objective is the guideline that’s by client,” explained Lee. “For example, if today you hired me to make a logo and you as a client tell me that ‘I don’t like color orange, I don’t like color pink.’ Understandable for you; you are the person that pay for it. You deserve your request being fulfilled. For me, as a designer, if I take this job to do it for you, I have to use this as an objective, no pink, no orange, I don’t ask you why because that is your preference. As an artist you have 100% freedom; you’re not required to fulfill that objective.”

Prior to being a full-time professor in 2003, Lee worked as an environmental designer. She believes the best way to approach a new project is by one-upping one’s own work without putting an unthinkable amount of pressure on themselves.

Lee considers herself “extremely fortunate” to be able to teach and showcase her work. She reminds her students that are perusing a career in the subject they’re passionate about, is a blessing.

Lee’s exhibition will be up until Oct. 19. For more information about Lee’s art exhibition and to see her other works, visit her website.

Featured image courtesy of Crystal Yachin Lee.

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