Intoxicated with the iconography of modern day America, Nadia Lee portrays sultry housewives with 50s hairdos in neon-lit motels theaters to create a staged Lynch-like world, in which nothing is quite what it seems. Nadia talks about her background, inspirations and 100 naked women.
Nadia, after seeing your work, I was surprised to learn you are from Britain. Where did you grow up? And why the obsession with America?
I get that a lot. I actually had a very English upbringing on a farm in the countryside. I love America for the aesthetic, the bold graphics, diners, motels, etc. etc. This fascination came from the movies I’ve watched and the photographers I admire.
Your work is very suggestive and cinematic. David Lynch, among others, comes to mind. Like him, you seem to be fascinated by American middle class suburbia. What makes, seemingly boring, seemingly perfect suburbia so inspiring?
I wrote my dissertation on this, so I have a lot to say on it, but perhaps a summed up statement could be that it’s very easy to puncture something we associate with perfection.
You’ve said you’re inspired by cinema and cinematic photographers. Regarding the latter, who should I think of?
There are so many, but perhaps it’s easier to mention particular projects rather than a photographer’s entire body of work. I love Philip Lorca Dicorcia’s male prostitute project Hustlers, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled film stills and her Clowns, William Eggleston’s first color photographs, Bill Owens’ Suburbia, Martin Parr’s Think of England, Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh. These are the projects that I always refer back to, and really inspired me from the moment I saw them.
If you can name only 3 movies that truly inspired you, which ones would you name?
The Shining, Gummo, Pink Flamingos, In that order.
One project you’re working on is 100 Naked Women, which is related to online censorship and a campaign named #freethenipple. Could you tell us a bit more? When will the book come out?
It was around a time when I was having a slight mental block in creating new work. I needed an idea that I could work on constantly in my spare time and turn into a lengthy series, but it had to be something significant and relevant to what was happening around me. I shot a friend following her break up with a boyfriend predominantly to make her feel good about herself. And seeing how liberated she felt after the experience was the initial driving force behind the project. The series has progressed into a response to what is happening right now with online female censorship, as this is something very relevant to me and something I constantly have to consider when posting behind-the-scenes photographs from the naked girls, inspiration imagery or even photographs of myself. I was driven to proceed with the book as it has become a form of documentation and platform, in which the modern females involved are not restricted whatsoever in how much of their bodies they choose to reveal to others.
You take a lot of self-portraits, in which you have no issues to appear nude. Never been shy?
Actually, when I first started having my photograph taken I don’t think I would never have appeared naked. I’ve always admired women that have the confidence to do so though. It didn’t seem important until I started my 100 Naked Women project. I began to recognize that the models I was working with responded well to me sharing stories about getting shot naked or being naked in public. It proves I’m not afraid to live the work I create.
You have an MA in Fashion Photography from the London School of Fashion (LSF). What are the Good, Bad and the Ugly of the LSF?
LCF allowed constant freedom. Some may hate that if they respond better to being under constant guidance and being told what to do. I, on the other hand loved it. Although I had complete creative freedom, I still had constant support and was able to run free with the weirdest ideas and not be criticized for that.
John Waters had his DIVINE. Where did you find yours?
She’s called Rhiannon. She lives in Vegas and is a psychic. She contacted me because she read an article on 100 Naked Women in the Huffington post. Her friend told her to contact me, so she did. I receive a lot of emails from people wanting to model, but Rhiannon really stood out to me. I love DIVINE and have always wanted to shoot something based on her, as she was such an inspirational character, so I put the idea to Rhiannon (also a DIVINE fan) and we did it.
Seeing your love for (American) cinema, are the movies next for Nadia Lee Cohen?
Ultimately I want to direct. I’d love to make a movie someday. I’ve had a couple of conversations about making this happen, but obviously it would be a huge change to do something on that sort of a scale. Also … imagine if it flopped and went ‘straight to dvd’!
If you can photograph 2 people, anyone, anywhere in the world, who you like to appear in front of your lens?
This is really hard. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and it changes all the time, but today it’s between David Lynch and John Waters.
Where will we see you in 2016?
Hopefully on Wikipedia. I feel like people have made it when they are on it.