The subjects of this Exercise are two series of photographs by two women artists, Nikki S Lee and Trish Morrissey.  

Lee, an American of Korean origin, had aspirations of becoming an actress but, after pressure from her mother, chose instead to train as a photographer and now lives out her dream of acting in order to create subjects for her photographs.  She is probably best known for her series Projects in which she studies the manners and dress sub-cultures in her locality and infiltrates them in character for a period of several months during which she gets someone to take a photograph of her amongst the group.   

Morrissey seems to gain meaning and purpose through temporarily infiltrating the lifestyle and / or lives of others and having her photograph taken in situ.  For her series Front she approached groups of people on the beach and persuaded them to allow her to infiltrate their group after changing clothes with one of the women. She then got the woman to take a photograph of her having taken her place in the group.

The theme running through these two series is that of the artist role playing and then assimilating herself into a completely new and alien environment.  The final taking of the photograph almost seems to be peripheral to the whole act.  The Exercise ask me to answer a number of questions as follows : –

1. Is there any sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitative? Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs or both?

In my view, Lee’s series Projects is to some extent voyeuristic but not as a result of the act of photography but because of Lee’s apparent interest in infiltrating the lives of the individuals within the sub-cultures.  I am in two minds about whether it is exploitative as, whereas the artist is clearly using the individuals and their families for her own purposes with no obvious reciprocal benefit, equally clearly she is doing so with their agreement otherwise she would not get off first base with her project.  

I believe that Lee is saying much more about herself and her own psyche than about the group which she has infiltrated. If it was her aim to comment on the group identity of the people then she would have been able to say much more about them by taking a fly-on-the-wall, documentary approach to her photography and thereby give a much greater insight into their ways and beliefs. I am not aware that she took any more images of the group members than the one in which she herself appeared and it would appear that her purpose was to show her success in taking on the guise of a member of the group rather than capturing any details of the group members themselves.  

2. Would I agree to Morrissey’s request if I was enjoying a day on the beach with your family?  If not, why not?

No, I certainly would not agree to her request!  I cannot understand the point of it and it would feel like an intrusion from someone who’s sole interest seems to be in living life through others.  I see no benefit to me or any of my family, but rather it would be the disturbance of a quiet and well deserved period of quiet family time.   

3.  Morrissey uses self-portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven Years and The Failed Realist.  Look at these projects and make some notes in your learning log.

Seven Years is a series of images, taken by an unknown hand, of the artist and her sister who is seven years older (hence the title of the piece apparently) in which they recreate old family photos at the artist’s old home in Dublin.  The recreation of the original period is meticulously detailed through fashion, accessories and locations.  The Failed Realist is a series of head and shoulder shots of the artist after her face had been painted by her young daughter who was inspired by thoughts and subject matter to create the designs that she had chosen.  

I have spent some considerable time looking at these series by Morrissey and Lee and reading up reviews and watching videos about the works and the artists but the images still leave me unengaged and questioning the point of them.  In all instances it is not even the ‘artists’ who took any of the photographs and therefore their role in the work is as a role player or actress rather than a photographer.  In the case of The Failed Realist, Morrissey is merely a canvas on which her daughter created the ‘art work’ and thereby it is her daughter who is the artist if anyone.  

—–   o0o   —–


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