Jes Lee

The Year Long Portrait of Water

Perhaps the best place to start is to introduce myself and my project…


I am a photographer…


I am a photographer, documenting the memories of our landscapes. I photograph what we leave behind on this earth, what appears, what disappears, and what remains. Using my camera I document our fragile home, witness the changes, and attempt to tell her story.


“Water is mutable, flexible, adaptive, and persistent. It holds memory and structure. Water’s
structure allows it to work together as a unified system.” – Edgar Fabian Frias.


Much of my artwork focuses on water.


Our bodies of water hold the memory of the space they occupy, how that space has changed over the centuries, and how the surroundings have changed. Our water bodies hold the memory of our footprints on this earth, the memories of centuries of inhabitants within and without. Often at the center of very politically charged battles for usage rights and fossil fuels, our bodies of water are sources of life.


Photographing, documenting, and telling the stories of Minnesota’s bodies of water is an ongoing project for me.


This project began by documenting a year of Lake Superior’s memories. These photographs were taken with medium format film from the same vantage points at four locations along the north shore. I photographed each location once per month from May 2018 through May 2019. To create the final images, I layer these photographs on top of one another.


Through this process I create a compilation image of one full year of memories of that water and land.


The final images have an eerie and ghostly quality to them, at once showing a brief moment in the lifespan of the water, and hinting at what may be yet to come.


Lake Superior was only the beginning.


From May 2020 through May 2021 I photographed a year of a portion of the Mississippi River. Like with the Lake Superior project, I identified six locations between South St. Paul and Elk River, and photographed these locations once per month. I completed photographing May 2021 and am currently creating the compilation images of these places. Last summer I began photographing Mille Lacs Lake in the same way, and will complete photographing the lake in July 2022.


The grant project…


I just received a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support Grant to continue work on this project. I will collect these photographs and compilations and form them into a series of hand bound artist books, documenting each location and it’s story. Books are accessible, intimate, and give the viewer a tactile connection with the work. They can be shown in a variety of settings. Most of all, they must be held and touched by the viewer for the full experience. This gives the viewer a more intimate, tactile connection with the work. The grant period runs from January 2022-December 2022. During that time I will be hosting a variety of virtual events showcasing the creation of the books and discussions of our local bodies of water, their meanings for our people and neighborhoods, their importance to our climate. These virtual events will be recorded when possible and shared in this space as well.


I hope you will follow along on this journey.


I will be sharing many looks behind the scenes, and sharing bits of my artistic process. I hope you join me, I hope you ask questions, and I hope this makes you think a bit differently about the bodies of water near you.