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A Studio Visit with Lori Nix

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Lori Nix’s photographs picture life on Earth after the fall of human civilization. Drawing inspiration from the Romantic painters of the 19th Century, Nix embraces the power of nature and indulges in the sublimity of ruins. An amalgam of sculptural process and painterly design, her uncanny photographs document meticulously constructed dioramas that she builds with the help of her partner, Kathleen Gerber. The resulting photographs, printed large, serve as windows into a world where nature reigns supreme despite the advances of mankind.

Nix’s work has been shown at the George Eastman House, Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), Bronx Museum, and in numerous galleries. She has received the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in Photography (2014) and New York Foundation for the Arts Individual Artist Grant (2004, 2010) as well as multiple studio residencies including Light Work Artist-in-Residence, Artist in the Marketplace (Bronx Museum). Nix has published several monographs including: The Power of Nature (Wienand Verlag, 2016); The City (Decode, 2013); Another World (PACI, 2012); and Contact Sheet (Light Work, 2002). She is represented by ClampArt.

Library, 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

B&H: What brought you to New York?

Lori Nix: I worked at two photo labs in Ohio that were both on the verge of closing because of the rise of digital. Color printing was what I knew and I saw New York as the center of the photo world, so I came here to get a job. I was mostly printing murals and contacting film; my specialty was 4 x 5 and 8 x 10. I saw a lot of large format film come through. Artists such as Robert Polidori, Tina Barney, Justine Kurland, Richard Mosse.

And your early work was done with large format film?

All the interiors were done on 8 x 10 film with very little retouching. I wanted to make everything perfect. I was printing myself; I didn’t want to have to do a lot of dodging and burning. I was pretty meticulous about what I would get.

Now, when I am shooting digital, I’m even more obsessed with getting it perfect the first time. I still don’t want to do a lot of retouching. I’m old fashioned in the way that I need to see everything through the lens. Even when I’m photographing things like haze, I have a fog machine rather than Photoshopping it in.

Flood, 1998. Courtesy of the artist.

I have always been impressed by your ability to create convincing images while working on such a small scale.

They are kind of small, but they’re not. Some of the interiors were 30 x 40 inches, some were nine by ten feet. Sometimes people think I am working miniature; I’m working small, but not miniature.

What are you using to shoot your compositions today?

I use a 50mm lens—most 50s are about how fast they are—what I needed was a slow lens. Ideally, something that goes down to f/32. There was only one lens that I could find and it was the Canon 50mm Compact Macro lens. When I was shooting 8 x 10, I was at f/64. Most [digital 35mm lenses] top out at f/16 or 22, and it’s not enough.

Once I’ve taken about thirty photographs, they are all stitched together. That’s how I am getting the final size. I have a little Nodal Ninja that I shoot with in parts and put it all together.

Parade, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

You scale down to build but then blow your scenes back up when you print them out?

I do these with my partner, Kathleen. We never work in a consistent scale. Everything is always changing so it just depends on how big I set each scene. There is always one thing that sets the scale for the rest of the image.

And you build your scenes from scratch?

Yes. We build about 90% of the scene from scratch. Every once in a while, we’ll use store-bought materials, such as plastic plants. Our building materials are pretty simple: foam board, styrene, chip board, acrylic sheet.

Do you have a background in sculpture?

Ceramics! And Kathleen has a background in glass. What we’re not handy at is computer programming—people keep asking why we don’t 3-D print these. I don’t have the programs and that’s a whole different way of thinking. By the time you design it, print it, and sand out all the edges, I could have built one [from scratch] five times over.

Dodo Birds, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.

What is your process like in terms of research and planning?

Often, I will see something on the street, online, or in a magazine that excites me and I just go. A lot of them have a very specific image that inspired me and got me thinking about composition.

Once you have that image in mind, do you have the point of view planned, or is that something that comes later?

Some are right off, other ones I’ve done two or three times, changing things around.

In many of your photographs, you’ve replaced the Rückenfigur of the German Romantics with the detritus of modern civilization. How does the sublime factor into your work?

In my mind, humans are gone from the face of the earth and this is nature taking back over and reclaiming our spaces—spaces that were theirs to begin with. And I think about the whole Hudson River School painters when they were going to upstate New York before it was really touched by man. You have those beautiful vistas—so now you have beautiful vistas, but with city ruins. People are fascinated with ruins—paintings of Greek temples falling down and being overgrown. I love that style of painting. Now we are on the other side of the frontier. We’ve come, we’ve conquered, we’ve conquered ourselves, and now we go back to nature. Which may not be such a bad thing.

I take it that films are another source of inspiration?

Oh yeah. Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run—everything from the Seventies. I watched a lot of those growing up.

And you grew up in Kansas, ground zero for witnessing the power of nature.

When I was a kid we lived in rural, Western Kansas; we had hailstorms, tornado sirens, insect infestations…

Great Hall, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Sounds almost apocalyptic.

If we were in Kansas right now this would be the June bug time when thousands of June bugs descend—then crickets and grasshoppers later in the summer. All the events that would terrify an adult made it fun for a child when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of them.

You were in New York during September 11. How did that event affect your work?

I had already been doing natural disasters, from 1997 through 2000. Then, after September 11, my inspiration came from New York Times headlines. I’m sure I’ve been influenced by my experience of it—I was in the lab, we stayed open as long as possible because photographers were bringing their film to us. We stayed open until the very last minute, until Mayor Giuliani shut Manhattan down. But I’ve never purposely pursued something that directly screams 9/11. It’s just too traumatic for too many people to relive that over and over.

Subway, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

It seems like you keep many of your series’ open-ended.

I do, I can’t say the city is done, even though the last photograph was in 2015. I have three more I could do after I have the first showing of the current series. I have a couple of interiors planned. I have one that’s been sitting in my apartment for almost a year and a half.

When will readers be able to see some of your new work on the wall?

I have a show planned for December, at ClampArt, in New York, and then a show in Chicago, in March, at the Catherine Edelman Gallery.


Cory Rice

Lori Nix

Lori Nix is represented by ClampArt. A greater selection of her work can be found on her website.

This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with New York City-based artists, focusing on contemporary photographic practices.

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I went to see a very important lecture of Lori Nix in Wichita, KS, U.S.A. in who she is and still a Blessed Photographer on Subway, Dodo Birds, Great Hall, etc. I have saw some of her work in Photography for the lecture of hers, in that she proudly did and from now on. Keep up the Good Work Lori Nix, I am so proud of you indeed!!! May God Bless you Lori Nix, on your own Work!!!

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