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Finalist No. 2: Jenny Yang

Freshly minted Corcoran College of Art and Design graduate Jenny Yang, our second Real Art D.C. finalist, wrestles with the complications of family and belonging in her arresting photographic series "West Pratt Street."

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

"I went to Cambodia to find God," Jenny Yang says of a missionary trip she took when she was 22. "But I ended up finding photography."

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Yang had hoped to embrace her parents' devout Christianity on that trek to southeast Asia. But several weeks and three rolls of film later, she discovered a new career path. The pictures shot on the trip prompted her to enroll in the Corcoran College of Art and Design. This May, Yang, 27, graduated with a concentration in photojournalism.

Since that missionary trip, Yang has been using her creative practice to reconcile family expectations with inner drives. Her arresting photographic series "West Pratt Street" -- images that became her senior thesis and that she uploaded to Real Art D.C. -- wrestles with the complications of family and belonging.

Growing up, Yang spent Saturday afternoons working the cash register of her Korean-born parents' South Baltimore liquor store. At the store, she was a face, not a person; customers didn't know her, and she didn't know them. Only when she got a camera and returned to the neighborhood did she befriend members of the community.

She documented the store, her parents and the customers who allowed her into their living rooms. She built trust and goodwill; her subjects loosened up.

Yang made rich pictures. One, of the liquor store's bullet-proof glass, speaks to the cautions and defenses among immigrants and inner-city residents. It also plays with surface and depth within the picture plane. Like all of Yang's images, the photo is both aesthetically and conceptually solid. "The store" is both a physical location and a psychic one -- and it underpins every image in the series.

These days, Yang keeps returning to Baltimore to shoot more pictures. She also interns for two elder statesmen of the D.C. art community, art photographer Frank Hallam Day and former Washington Post photojournalist Lucian Perkins.

Jenny, what can I say? Keep doing what you're doing. The work will only get richer. The personal may fuel your work, but the images speak to all of us.

-- Jessica Dawson

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