The Woman With Countless Faces- Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee worked as David LaChapelle, the fashion photographer’s assistant as she delved in the studies of commercial photography. However, rather than pursuing a career in commercial photography, Lee went a very different way. Some of the popular themes in her work include recognition of self and the fluidity of identity, which shows how a person can be extended to many different forms and natures. Fortunately, Lee’s art was quick to climb the ladder to success and she became widely acclaimed soon after her very first exhibition held in New York. Currently, her works are at many museums including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Nikki S. Lee, although based in Korea, got attention for her project, named Projects Series, spread over 4 years which documented various American sub cultures. She would immerse herself in a group of hippies, drag queens, senior citizens or urban youth while acting and expressing the same way they do. A simple point-and-click camera would be given to another member of the group or a random passerby and they would take pictures of the artist. These pictures were stunning in the way they recorded Lee’s interaction and blending in with different sub-cultures we generally think are extreme. As an artist, Lee worked to reveal that identity is a very fluid concept and is susceptible to change- she showed her artwork in the Projects Series as honest extensions of herself.


A more recent venture by the photographer was her Parts series which took place from 2002 to 2005. Parts had a different theme attached to it. In this series of artwork, Lee explored how a relationship affects people and their sense of identity. The series consist of candid shots of her with a man where the man has been crudely cropped making it impossible to see who he really is.

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Lee has also spread her wings beyond photography and directed the film “A.K.A Nikki S Lee”. This movie was groundbreaking in the sense that it combined fiction with a typical documentary, giving it a lot of zest and flavour. To top things, Lee played two different roles in the movie. Drawing on to her theme of identities, both of these roles were versions of her original self.


I think Nikki S Lee is a brilliant artist in all senses of the word. Her art goes way behind the skill of taking a good photo. She uses her camera to find out the essence of people and how fluid it is. Living in a world of extremism and intolerance, Lee’s work is a ray of light showing we’re all not that different. The way she focuses on the essence of a photo rather than using professional cameras and effects is really amazing. I’m also a big fan of the fact that she has diversified herself beyond a photographer and can act, as well as direct, with grace and effective communication.