Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Contemporary Photographer Presentation: Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee was born in South Korea in 1970 as Lee Seung-Hee. She got her B.F.A. at Chung-Ang University in Korea and then moved to New York where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. She then attended New York University where she got her M.A. in photography.

Lee is known for her numerous series of photographs that document her exploration of identity and culture. She observes specific cultures and groups, adopts their styles, and then approaches them. Her experiments cover all walks of life and include people of different ages, races, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and hobbies. Once she integrates herself with a group, she stays with them for a couple of weeks, participating in their daily lifes. A partner takes pictures of her/the group when she instructs them to and she then selects which pictures fit the series she was working on. All of the photographs are taken with a manual 'snapshot' camera.

The technical aspects (framing, composition, lighting, etc.) of Lee's photographs are unique to the culture of the individual she has transformed in to. Her photos arent always of the best quality because of the equipment they are taken with but I think that this adds to the photographs. They seem more amateur in a way and therefore make them seem more believable. A studio version of the same subjects and setting would be aesthetically pleasing because the lighting could be just right and the photographers could take hundreds of shots of a single scene in order to get just the right picture. That however, would take away from the picture because these pictures give us a sliver of the life of these people.

I love Lee's work because it is so different from any thing else that resembles it. Countless photographers seek to make a commentary on identity or to capture individuals in their own 'habitat'. Lee takes this one step further and goes outside of the box by transforming herself into one of them. Her transformations are not very simple either. To go from a Korean woman to a blonde Ohio woman to a 60+ year old woman AND be believable is amazing. At first glance you wouldn't have any clue that she didn't fit in with the people she was photographed with.


From her series Projects (1997-2001): (Top to Bottom) The Ohio Project, The Hip Hop Project, The Hispanic Project, The Seniors Project

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