Photographer Series: KangHee Kim

Photographer Series: KangHee Kim

Fluffy clouds peeking through interlaced electrical wires. An apartment building opening up its doors to a sandy beach. Sun-beams reflecting the sunset-colored skies onto a bedroom wall. KangHee Kim, provides alternative realities; imagined doorways which the viewer is invited to step through and escape.  

Born in Seoul, South Korea, and currently living in New York, photographer KangHee Kim creates surrealist photographs, transporting us into alternative worldsAs part of her ongoing project titled Street Errands, KangHee Kim manipulates her own photographs of seemingly mundane scenes, and overlays them using Photoshop, ultimately generating eye-catching results. She can thus free herself of the restraints of the traditional photographic medium, as she herself explains: “One day, I was waiting for the right moment to photograph. Suddenly a thought came across my mind: ‘Why can’t I create it on my own?’ […] Manipulating scenes introduces infinite possibility, where it is free from limits or restraints from real life.”

Her photographs have earned her a mass following, both through her Instagram page, going by the nickname tinycactus, and more broadly in the art world, with much of her appeal stemming from her photographs’ sense of escapism. “They are mostly created from constructing my own form of surreal escapism by manipulating images produced from mundane encounters,” KangHee explains. “My work involves a juxtaposition of mundane scenes in New York and beautiful scenery outside of the city.” Though KangHee’s photography provides an escape from the oftentimes monotonous everyday, her work roots from something much more personal. KangHee moved to the United States at the age of 14 but was never given a green card due to a simple missed deadline. Though she is now protected under DACA, her visa status prohibits her from traveling outside the United States, restricting her to the 50 states inscribed in the country.    

Unable to visit her birthplace, KangHee resorted to her collaging art practice, brining tropical elements into the city, and allowing her to travel through her work; temporarily relieving her wanderlust. “You know when you’re traveling abroad and constantly looking all over, discovering new things within a single space?” she says. “I’m doing that, but without going anywhere. It feels like I’m traveling.”

This feeling that is portrayed though her photographs resonates with many of the admirers of her work and have earned KangHee her first solo show in the D Museum in Korea, a show which unfortunately she wasn’t able to attend. Though she finds herself in the restrictive status of immigrational limbo, she nonetheless keeps a positive attitude explaining “It’s funny, but I started this project because of my visa status, and I think I’m more appreciative of what I have now because of it. I try to not really complain or be too self-pitying. It’s hard, but it’s the best I can do. All I can do is wait.”

KangHee’s work verges on the probable, not the impossible. At first glance it might seem like an everyday scene; a shadow of a building, a travelling cloud; but looking closer we are surprised to find a lush palm tree, or an ocean sunrise. They are windows into what could have been, but they never lose the hope that it one day will. 


Words by Sofia Zymnis