Nikki S. Lee
Nikki S. Lee’s ‘Projects’ (2011) saw her transform herself into members of different social and ethnic groups where she explores the way photographs represent our relationships with other people.
Fig 1. Hip hop, Hispanic and Seniors, (1998, 1999 & 2001)
In the above images from Lee’s projects you can see that she the extent of the transformations and her ability to infiltrate different ethnic groups and seamlessly fit in. What’s interesting is how she’s chosen to use snapshots, even including the date on the photographs to backup the validity of the ‘snapshot’ theme. Also it’s important to note that Lee doesn’t physically take the photograph herself, this is done by a member of the group who doesn’t have any photographic experience.
Lee herself has never claimed to be a photographer but explains that she uses photographs as her medium for her projects.
‘Just because I use the photographic medium, that does not mean I am a photographer. I am not talking about a hierarchy between photography and art. I can be a photographer or an artist, whatever really. I use photography now but that does not mean I will forever…….’
Nikki S. Lee
(Bright, S. 2010:41)
Is there a sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitive?
The words voyeuristic and exploitive are quite severe words to describe the possible effects of Lee’s projects. In terms of voyeurism, who knows for sure but Lee? However, the passion stems from somewhere and her desire to carry out these projects, in particular the lesbian project, has a voyeuristic air to it. She is seeing herself pose as a separate person in situations that she has had the idea to put herself into, I’d say that can be deemed as voyeuristic.
Exploitive? It could be viewed that way. Lee is definitely exposing certain social and ethnic groups giving an insight into their inner workings. I don’t get the impression she is carrying out the projects to exploit them though. Lee’s reason for carrying out the projects was to determine our perception of the person in the photograph dependant on who she was with and how she was acting. It was planned and executed very well so the input from others would have been voluntary. She may have highlighted certain groups but not expelled them, there was no derogatory motive.
Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?
Lee isn’t commenting on her own identity although she is commenting on the identity of the person she is portraying.
‘The pictures are not about me – they are just stories’ – Nikki s. Lee (Bright, S 2010:41)
In order to do this she has to be commenting on the group identity also as its an integral part of her character placement. The two together are what makes the project successful.
The series Front (2005-2007), deals with the notion of borders, boundaries and the edge, using the family group and the beach setting as metaphors. Morrissey assumes the role of the mother in other families photos. This was to explore how vernacular family photography shapes the way ‘family’ is imagined and how groups of young people relate to one another.
Fig 2. Front (2005)
Morrissey wore the clothes of the person she’s replacing for authenticity. She was able to enlist the help of family and friends but wasn’t shy of asking complete strangers to take part. Once the series was underway Morrissey would have built up the confidence to approach strangers.
Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day at the beach with your family? If not, why not?
Personally, I would happily oblige un the name of art but psychologically, I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing another woman take my place in the family. I can imagine some people being against taking part for many reasons, for instance, they may just want to relax and enjoy their day out. They may be introverted and too shy to be photographed which would be in contrast to what Morrissey was trying to achieve.
Morrissey uses self portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist, comment on these.
This statement was taken from Trish Morrissey’s website in regards to ‘Seven Years’.
‘Seven Years (2001-2004) aims to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it. In the series, the title of which refers to the age gap between the artist and her elder sister, Morrissey functions as director, author and actor, staging herself and her sibling in tightly controlled, fictional mis en scene based on the conventions of family snapshots.’
Fig 3. January 25th, 1979, (2001-2004)
‘The Realist (This photograph is a particular favourite of mine. It made me laugh out loud when I first saw it as it reminds me of the photographs I took of my brothers during that era. The composition is what makes this photograph brilliant. It mimics the general disregard for a pleasing composition in family portraits and makes this one more believable. Big brother is looking to the right but we know it’s mum as her knees are are just within the frame. We know it’s mum because she’s wearing a skirt. Even though this is two women disguised as young men the level of deceit is admirable. Both ‘boys’ have their legs apart and their general demenure exudes young male domination of sofa space right down to the slouched position of the younger male.
The one single action that gives the game away is the feminine way in which the boy on the right has his hand placed on his hip. Its not the position of it, it’s a very dainty hand for male.
The whole series is thought provoking and takes the viewer on their own journey back through childhood. It’s especially interesting to see the expressions we used as teenagers transported onto an adult face. In the above photograph one brother is looking directly at the camera but is way too cool to raise a smile. Very funny stuff.
The Failed Realist (2011) ‘………….This photographic series was made in collaboration with my daughter when she was between the ages of four and five years. Face painting is a rainy day activity that we both enjoy. Once her motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted. Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream. Beyond the innocence of the child’s intention, more sinister themes such as clowns, carnival and the grotesque are evoked by these mask like paintings.’
Fig 4. Party Girl (2011)
I’m uncertain about what Trish is trying to say in this series as it seems to be an outlet for her daughter and not herself. Unless the need to photograph the face paintings and give them titles constitutes a series about herself? The best thing about this series is the names given to each painting. It gives us an insight to what the painter was thinking at the time and how a young child’s brain develops in ways we don’t always understand or interpret correctly.
Fig 1. Lee, N.S. Projects (1998, 1999 & 2001). At http://www.tonkonow.com/lee.html (Accessed 18/05/17)
Fig 2. Morrissey, T. (2005) Front. At http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html (Accessed 18/05/17)
Fig 3. Morrissey, T. (2001-2004) January 25th, 1979. At http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/workpg-06.html Accessed (18/05/17)
Fig 4. Morrissey, T. (2011) Party Girl. At http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/workpg-05.html Accessed (18/05/17)
Bright, S. (2010) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson
Bright, S. (2011) Auto Focus. London: Thames and Hudson