Interview (with Lori Nix): The World Reimagined

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Read the Interview column, “The World Reimagined” with photographer Lori Nix. Written by Karli Petrovic, this is only one of the articles in the new August 2013 issue of Print. Be sure to pick up a copy of Print’s Photography issue today to engage with current trends and issues in the field.


Building and photographing a scene takes approximately seven months for Nix to complete. “Subway.” View more of Nix’s photography in the August issue.

Photographer Lori Nix depicts death and destruction with approachable images and a bit of humor—and, no, she doesn’t have a death wish.

When looking at Lori Nix’s photographs, it’s hard to believe that each scene was constructed by hand. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that she avoided using digital manipulation to produce the final prints. In an era where Photoshop illusions can give anyone a beach body or an animal head, Nix chooses to rely solely on the “smoke and mirrors” of lighting and perfectly scaled models built on tabletops. The result is a surreal glimpse at the themes that most influence Nix’s work: danger and disaster. Here’s what Nix had to say about her process, her influences and what people really think ofher photographs.

You reference The Sublime school of thought as having an affect on your photography in that it attempts to evoke emotions like unease, humor or horror. Have you experienced these emotions when looking at your work? How do people who see your exhibitions react to them?

I have difficulty viewing the final photograph objectively due to the baggage of months of working on it. Throughout the building process, I am more concerned with the physical problems of materials and construction challenges. When I’m shooting, it’s all about lighting and color. That being said, I really consider the mood or ideas I want to express in the initial planning stages and focus the design in that direction. My goal is to make these constructed spaces look as real as possible. Reactions to the work vary from ‘that looks so real’ to hearing that I ‘have a death wish’ (I don’t). Once people realize these aren’t real spaces or events, the images are less threatening. Quite often people end up telling me a personal story that relates to the particular image in some way.

In your opinion, ‘photography should elicit some form of emotion in the viewer’ and ‘introduce the viewer to a new perspective.’ Who are some photographers who accomplish these things for you?

The people I find most influential are those I was studying while in graduate school. Interestingly enough, many of these artists are still active, just not necessarily today’s flavors. This list includes Les Krims and his ‘The Incredible Case Of The Stack O’Wheat Murders,’ Boyd Webb, Bruce Charlesworth, Sandy Skogland and Teun Hocks. I also keep tabs on other artists doing constructed photography. We all have our own viewpoint, and it’s exciting to see their fabrication and results. That includes Thomas Doyle, Adam Makarenko, Frank Kunert and James Casebere.

When you were growing up, you say natural disasters were viewed with angst by adults but were euphoric for children. This drama inspired your piece titled ‘Accidentally Kansas.’ Do you view these things differently as an adult?

I do view natural disasters differently now because I can better understand the real-life consequences. I know they are not ‘fun and games’ anymore, but I don’t live in constant fear of what might be coming next. I tend to look for the silver lining, and I have a healthy respect for Mother Nature and her ability to both destroy and impress. But, it is odd when natural disasters do occur, like the Japanese tsunami, I get asked if I am inspired and if I am going to do a scene in response. That has never been my goal in creating this body of work—commenting upon the here and now. ‘Accidentally Kansas’ was inspired by a whole childhood experience.

In ‘The City,’ flora, fauna and insects replace people. In ‘Unnatural History’ people are absent. And ‘Floater’ features a dead body. Is this a nod to your fascination with the apocalypse or a statement about humanity in general?

To me they are three separate reasons. First, ‘Floater’ is based on my summer job experience aboard a clunky riverboat. The job was less than ideal, and each day I worked I scanned the shoreline for excitement, which to me at that time meant a floating dead body. The closest I ever got was a lost, obviously dead, farm animal floating downstream. ‘Unnatural History’ is more about the museum itself. I imagined the backrooms and exhibits in the off hours. ‘The City’ series does speak to mankind’s future in which something has occurred, either manmade (like global warming) or spectacular (like an asteroid) that has wiped out humanity. It’s hard to ignore the daily news where one hears about the latest extinct or endangered species, disappearing habitat, drought, etc.

Your commercial work is much different from your other works, but both retain your signature. How do you maintain your voice when going from one project to the next?

My methods of creating work are similar whether for my personal work or commercial work. They are still constructed sets at the service of a narrative. I still try to keep them as realistic as possible with great attention to detail. I use the same types of materials and construction methods. The biggest difference is who directs the narrative. For myself, I consider my series as a whole and what will fit into that set of images. For commercial work, I am working for someone else and do my best to meet the needs ofthe project. They often have very set ideas about what they want from the start. Art directors hire me for my particular style and really don’t want me to deviate far from that.

Don’t miss learning even more about the history of photography and modern issues. Pick up the August 2013 issue of Print, the Photography issue today.