SF Bay Area

Finding Beauty in the Details

Photography student Aimee Youm dwells on ephemeral everyday moments in ‘Fleeting’ at 625 Sutter Gallery 

By Cristina Schreil

The very nature of photography is to preserve—to seize passing moments with a shutter click.  

Academy of Art University School of Photography (PH) student Aimee Youm leaned into this concept—building an entire exhibition around capturing everyday moments that are “fleeting.” Many of her subjects are seemingly mundane and feel plucked from day-to-day life in San Francisco: In “fade,” lacy ocean waves recede from wet sand on a beach; in “fragile,” gossamer spiderwebs cling to a cactus; in “vanish,” a thin mesh of cloud evaporates before a blocky building. Soft blues and pinks—her “colors,” she said—are a strong presence. Her eye meditates on these evanescent happenings and dreamlike hues across 11 photographs in her first solo exhibition, “Fleeting.” The show took place at the 625 Sutter gallery this past April.

“This paradoxical idea which the fleeting moment could be eternity was interesting to me,” Youm described in her artist statement. She said the series will hopefully inspire viewers to slow down and notice the little things. The B.F.A. student, focusing on fine art photography and graduating this spring, shot mostly around San Francisco during her winter and summer breaks. After returning to class, she examined her photos and a theme emerged.

“I focus on very small things, very precious things,” Youm said at the exhibition opening on April 4. She was drawn to capturing an airy, natural light. As her artist statement paints, her method is contemplative; she often sits and observes, noticing subtle changes as light shifts or things settle. “There are many times when I cannot see the exact same moment that I have just seen: The most memorable moment that I thought perfect,” she writes.

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Photo by Cristina Schreil.

She shot on a Minolta X-700 camera with Kodak Portra 160 film. In the gallery, she chose to display larger prints without frames.

Another element, which Gallery Manager Kevin Goring noted was “refreshingly lovely,” was the display’s storybook quality. Interspersed between photographs were poetic sentences stamped on the wall. Phrases included, “A fleeting moment can become an eternity” and “From a past encounter everything may disappear in the air.” They bridged images and married well with Youm’s vision, Goring said.

“I was impressed by the elements of story associated with the pictures most,” Goring added. “Ninety-five percent of the shows I hang are traditionally hung—straight lines or grids, evenly spaced. With Aimee, we broke those rules in an effort to emphasize her images and the text, forming a more complete and thoughtful exhibition.” He added that the theme was refreshing. “There’s beauty everywhere, in the large and the small, and I rarely find an artist who works in around or with these ‘fleeting moments’ with no pretense about how important.”

They are quiet moments, capturing an intimate mood. But, at the exhibition opening, “Fleeting” prompted big reactions.

“I love it, I feel like I’m in heaven, it’s giving me inspiration,” gushed Kevin Ho, a local photographer. “I am just somebody who really loves things that are gentle and very soft and colorful.” Ho gestured toward “fluid,” in which Youm snapped a swimming pool’s sparkling surface. A thin veil of pink-hued light washes over the left-hand portion of the image. “I’m very into the dreamy, ethereal, soft, gentle look, and her pictures take me to another place. Her photos bring a sense of escape,” Ho said.

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Aimee Youm guides local photographer Kevin Ho around her exhibition. Photo by Adrian Childress.

Academy PH student Irene Chon, a former classmate of Youm, said the photos were emblematic of Youm’s style. “There’s a lot of simple moments captured in a very romantic, feminine, simple way—and I say simple in the best possible way,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re right there, seeing what she’s seeing. That’s something I’ve always really admired in her work.”

Youm said that her time at the Academy helped expand her eye. “Critiques are the most important thing,” she said, referring to her instructors’ guidance. For an example of how such a critique helped her, she turned to “reflection.” Shot on Market Street in the Castro, it’s an exterior snapshot of a window covered by sheer curtains; reflected trees dominate the image. “Color is the first thing I see when I take photos, so I saw color,” she explained, pointing at the blue sky and white curtain. “But, some other people saw the lines and composition.” She learned how to also view reflections and lines when taking photos.

For more information on Youm, her work and her exhibition series, visit aimh2.com.

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