These Portraits Will Change How You View The Human Body (NSFW)

Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
This article was originally published on September 2, 2015.

"People definitely had strong opinions about this particular work," begins photographer June Yong Lee. He goes on to describe the polarizing nature of his project, Torso Series, which led at least one reviewer to compare Lee to Hannibal Lecter. Of course, this doesn't give Lee nearly enough credit. Each photograph is the product of an incredibly meticulous process, in which Lee asks each model to rotate slightly as he takes anywhere from 20 to 30 photos. Once the images are developed, he splices them together to create a single photograph of the model's entire torso.

Unfair pop culture comparisons aside, Lee acknowledges that his photography is bound to bring out strong feelings, and that might be intentional: "Skin [as a subject] is so sensitive… So, with some people getting uncomfortable, I sort of see that as the point of what I’m trying to do," he explains.

"When you look at a person," says Lee, "you look at the shape of the person, but also the surface of their skin — their skin color, what’s written on their skin, [and] those things carry their identities in interesting ways." Although Lee had always been interested in human bodies and skin as a subject, his move from South Korea to the United States intensified his fascination: "When I was in Korea," he explains, "everyone around me was Korean, and their ethnicity or race wasn’t important at all. But then, when I came over here, I realized I was Asian for the first time, which was kind of strange, but that became part of my identity."

Suddenly much more aware of his appearance and how he was seen by others, Lee invested a new kind of meaning his own skin, and thus, in the skin of others. His work holds true to the idea that the skin and the body carry a person's identity and story; each image shows a person's entire midsection, front to back, omitting no scars, tattoos, or birthmarks. They may first strike you as strange, even alien, but a second glance will reveal each photograph to be deeply human — raw and unflinching.
Lee's book is available for order here.

Click through for more from Lee's project, in all its haunting beauty.
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"In art history, nude bodies were treated more as forms with shapes, whereas my work looks at the skin itself."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I tend not to use the word ‘stretch’ [when I describe my process] because it sounds a little different than what I’m trying to do."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"You’re looking at 360 degrees of the body, so you split the back and then spread out the skin [flat], and that’s what you see."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"Everything is more or less real, but I have made this impossible view of bodies, because you never get to see your own back, or see [your whole torso] all at once."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I made a rule that I wasn’t going to shoot anyone I knew, so all the people [I photographed], mostly, I found them online, posting on Craigslist that I was looking for models for my project."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I shoot anyone who has any kind of mark in their torso area that relates to their life or story or identity, whatever that might be, [and] I go from there."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"We [can be] very sensitive about our skin and bodies, so if you start to manipulate or alter what [people] already know, then people [can] get really uncomfortable."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"Sometimes people are [especially] curious about one of the images…[one] with a lot of texture... And with that particular one, a lot of people just aren’t sure what they’re looking at, but it is scratch marks."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"This is a very sensitive matter, and I’m trying to show the vulnerable and fragile skin that we have, and trying to think about it differently than how we used to."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"[Any] uncomfortable or negative feedback, I see that [that happens] for the right reasons."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I think we’re just not used to seeing bodies this way."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"People get uncomfortable with the body, and I totally understand where that comes from."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I got to know a little about the body [and] skin that I didn’t know about before…and I want to continue that kind of theme [in future work]."
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Photo: Courtesy of June Yong Lee.
"I just want to try something similar, where we get to know something we didn’t know about our bodies."
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