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Daughter takes life-sized cutout of father on dream trip

Story highlights

  • Grieving daughter honors dead father by posing for pictures across Europe with his life-sized cutout
  • Only 52 when he died, father Jay Kwon Yang dreamed of world travel, but never got the opportunity
  • Daughter Jinna Yang is an artist in New York City
  • Photos have gained worldwide attention

When Jay Kwon Yang died from stomach cancer in Virginia in 2012, he left a dream unfulfilled: world travel.

The environmental engineer and owner of a dry cleaner wanted to see Europe. And Africa. Even California or not so far away Florida.

But he never got the chance.

He was just 52 when he died.

For more than a year, his 25-year-old daughter, Jinna Yang, couldn't grow past the grief of losing her father, who had raised her, along with a brother and half-sister, almost single-handedly.

So she decided to take her father on the trip of his dreams.

    (You can read Yang's moving tribute to her father on her blog.)

    Buddy pictures

    Traveling for a month in April with a portable, life-sized cutout of her father, New York-based Yang trekked across Europe and posed for pictures in front of famous landmarks, from Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

    "I have a good friend whose father is an industrial designer -- he helped me score the cutout so that it folded in and out," Yang tells CNN. "It became portable enough to carry around after I folded it up."

    Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland was one of many dramatic stops for the dad-daughter duo.

    "I took the time to appreciate the little things," says Yang. "In every city I went, I took time to sit and soak in sights.

    "Whether it was a huge waterfall in Iceland or a local cafe in Florence, I just sat. I loved watching the couples pass by in the romantic city of Florence, water crashing against rocks on the Italian Riviera, even the peacocks I saw on the island of Lokrum off the coast of Croatia."

    Iceland was the most "life-changing" destination for Yang.

    "I had never done anything so adventurous, and the entire country seems like another planet sometimes," she says.

    Her cardboard travel buddy stirred curiosity throughout the trip.

    "Many people stopped me in the street, asking me if it was a famous person," says Yang. "Most of the time when you see a life-sized cutout, it's of Justin Bieber or One Direction, and it's usually in a nine-year-old's room.

    "Lots of people stopped to take photos as well."

    Worldwide attention

    When she returned to New York, Yang posted her collection of photos on her blog (see gallery above).

    The photos touched people around the world, though not all of the feedback has been positive.

    Some commentors on Yang's site have suggested the photos are faked, an accusation Yang denies.

    "It's really unfortunate to hear these false accusations but I guess it goes with the territory," Yang tells CNN.

    "The cutout I took with me was a flat board that stood six feet tall. I scored (it) into three sections so I could fold it up and take it around with me. So, no, I didn't have to pay for an extra seat for dad!"

    A "behind the scenes" photo of Yang carrying the cutout in front of the Louvre appears on her Instagram page.

    "I consider myself an artist, and when I set out on this mission, I wanted to honor my father's memory and take beautiful photos to showcase the project," Yang says. "As any photographer knows, in order to create that 'perfect image' there are times that editing is required.

    After visiting London, Rome and the Louvre in Paris (pictured), Yang hopes to return to Europe in July.

    "I do edit my work, and so does my photographer friend who took the photos. The white border around the cutout was cleaned up to make for a more beautiful photograph in many of these shots.

    "It is sad that people are questioning the authenticity of the entire project, but ... I am grateful for the positive support I've received from the community.

    "The purpose of this project was not to make the perfect picture, but to bring peace to my family and inspire people to find hope and the courage to continue."

    Travel as therapy

    Now back in New York, Yang is planning another European tour she hopes to take in July.

    "Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to know which direction to go," says Yang. "I was broken, and because I allowed myself to accept that, I found the strength to make a change.

    "I had talked about going backpacking through Europe, but when I (actually) booked the ticket and started planning the trip, it gave me something to look forward to again.

    "I became confident in my ability to do something, and discovered hope in my future again."