Photographs by Nikki S. Lee. Essay by Rose Lee Goldberg.
Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2006. 96 pp., 60 color illustrations, 9x11″.
Nikki S. Lee has firmly established herself within the photographic pantheon, and is deserving your attention. Somewhere between an emerging and mid-career artist, her work is playful yet sophisticated and very distinctive. She has said, “We all have many different personas and I want people to think about the range that they occupy. There is a persona you present to a schoolteacher or to your parents or to a new boyfriend. Each is affected by the context and each shows a gap between inside and outside. Each is a personal performance.” Lee is explicitly the subject of her photographs. Influenced by her own relationships, she leads a fictitious life in Parts—as a woman whose character has, in many ways, been influenced by the company she keeps. With each image a new story unfolds. In Projects, published in 2001 and now out-of-print, she lived a transient photographic reality—acting like an anthropologist using participant-observation to study different “cultural” groups. This same ease of identity transformation is evident in Parts, but the scenarios are more personal. It is easy to project many of one’s own personas into Lee’s photographs. Many of us don various hats throughout the day—at work, at home, with friends. But Lee pushes that idea further. Look at your own collection of family snapshots through the years and note how your persona and identity has been transformed by the influence of friends and relationships throughout different chapters of your life. Where would I be now had I married the man I dated before I met my husband? I would be somewhat the same, but in many ways a different person living life on a different path. Nikki S. Lee moves from one path to the next seamlessly in the fictitious photographic world she has created. She is a photographic cosmopolite, composed of elements from all of her photographs while being none of them at the same time. It’s clear that we’ll be referencing Lee as the influence of many photographers to come. – Larissa Leclair
Originally published in the Photo-eye Booklist, Summer 2006.