I became a fan of photographer, Lori Nix, while researching the graphic to represent my website, Searching for Light in the Darkness. Every author wants to find that perfect header graphic that best captures the brand. No shortage of candidates for apocalyptic and dystopian settings, Lori had a unique presentation of forsaken places. I settled on The Library, where a tree stretches to the broken roof of a derelict library in search of better light.
Lori Nix, is a self-described, non-traditional photographer who constructs her subjects (rather than look for them). Her lifelike photographs begin as dioramas—some as small as 50×60 centimeters—that she builds with her creative partner, Kathleen Gerber, who adds aging and deteriorating effects. “We have a great symbiotic relationship—I build them, and she helps destroy them,” Nix says. The scenes recall the 1970s disaster movies she grew up watching, images of crumbling buildings and abandoned subways, with nature overgrowing the built environment.
Her collection, The City, is an imagined city of our future, where something either natural or as the result of mankind, has emptied the city of its human inhabitants. The walls are deteriorating, the ceilings are falling in, the structures barely stand, yet Mother Nature is slowly taking them over. Insects, Flora, and fauna fill dilapidated spaces, reclaiming what was theirs before man’s encroachment.
Lori’s partner, Kathleen, posted an article on their blog site, My 8 X 10 Life, describing a film team’s efforts to capture the creative process. Lori graciously permitted my reposting the article below.
Originally Posted by Kathleen Gerber
January 14, 2014
“Hi. You don’t know me at all but my partner and I would like to come into your studio/home for an undisclosed amount of time and document you and your process of making a diorama and subsequent photograph for use in a film we are hoping to make sometime in the future. We’re not quite sure about all of the details of the theme, but we’ll figure it out. What do you say?”
That is not the exact email that Lori received last spring, but it is the basic premise. And that is how we came to meet Nol and Rob, the film duo known as The Drawing Room, http://www.drawingroomnyc.com. We did some research on them, and eventually said ‘yes’ to their proposal of filming us at work. It began with a basic meeting in our apartment. It just so happened that Lori and I were getting ready to start creating a diorama of our studio, which you may or may not know, doubles as our living room. They loved the idea of recording us building this tiny set inside of the actual place. It’s like the tv on the tv on the tv! What is real?
To fabricate the Living Room scene, we started with the bigger elements. The scale of the scene was determined by a chair that we had already made for an earlier construction. The walls and floor were begun, then we moved onto larger pieces of furniture-the work table, crates, flat files etc… Most of that falls on Lori’s shoulders. She is much better at building and constructing props like this. Measuring and cutting and careful gluing end up making me batty because I inevitably read the ruler incorrectly, slice the wrong bit off, or spill the glue. Carving, sculpting and spackling all come more naturally to me.
As you can imagine, constructing the scene was a long process. Fitting in studio hours around our day jobs adds a lot of time. But, Nol and Rob were very patient and would come out to the studio every two weeks or so and document whatever was going on. Even our failed experiments. A whole afternoon was wasted as we attempted to vacuum form miniature plastic storage bins. Live and learn (and bitch and moan). They were also quite genial with the fluctuations in temperature throughout the summer. At one point it reached a mere 99 degrees inside the apartment. We were all quite stinky after this particular session. Lori and I generally dress (or don’t dress) for the heat, but we all thought it best if we made ourselves more presentable for the camera.
While they filmed, they asked us various questions about materials, process, our backgrounds, etc… We’d try to give them enough information that they could edit it down to what they needed to fit the eventual theme of the movie. And we’d get off topic quite a bit because we all got along so well. I think one of the most entertaining conversations involved the inevitable (?) zombie apocalypse. Get prepared people!
When we were about half way through construction of the scene Lori got another surprise email. A small museum in the region was putting together a show about artist’s studios called “Inside the Artists’ Studios”. The Bruce Museum is truly worth seeking out. Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, it gives equal prominence to art, science and natural history through its wide range of exhibits. A group of folks from the museum came down to Brooklyn to see what we had going on and were pleased that Living Room would fit their plan for the exhibit. They were interested in showing the diorama as well as the finished photograph too.
Normally, showing the diorama is not even a consideration. The scenes are built for one viewing point. In fact, many of the objects inside the dioramas are only finished on one side to look good for the camera. In the past Lori has made an exception regarding showing the models when it is for educational purposes. (She was part of the “Otherworldly” show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2011 that featured artists who use models/dioramas for their work) This show would also fit that criteria, so she accepted the invitation to participate in the show.
Knowing that we would show the model, and it was early in the process of building it, we finished the pieces a bit more that we normally might when building it strictly for a photograph. What that means in practical terms is objects were finished in the full round and Lori actually scanned all of the books and cd’s in the living room so that the text and/or artwork was legible. She literally spent days scanning and printing these things. She’s nuts! But, it all looks really good, so I can’t really complain about the time spent.
The one really great thing about re-making the living room in miniature was that if we had a question about the size, scale, or color of anything, we could just go look at the original. One of the questions that the guys asked while filming is did we take reference photos of the living room before beginning to work.? We did not. The model is not what the studio/living room looked like on one very specific day. It is more of the overall look of the space showing the items that tend to not change over time – the work tables, chairs, shelves. When asked how we would recreate a very complicated object, I told him the truth—I’d leave it out of the scene! Why make myself crazy and take up a ton of time on a non-essential thing.
To prepare the diorama for transportation to the museum was another matter. We constructed it in such a way that the walls could be taken apart and packed into the car flat. Everything that could be glued down to a surface was secured (i.e., all of the items on the tabletops were glued down). Items on shelves were held in place by cardboard taped across the opening (I really did not want to re-shelve all the books and cd’s). Items that needed to remain loose (like chairs and light stands) were packed into small boxes and labeled for easy unpacking on site. We caravanned with the guys to the Bruce Museum. They also filmed us installing the diorama. It was a very long day! A large framed Living Room was hung next to the diorama. A large Subway flanked it on the other side which balanced the whole area quite nicely.
Finally opening night for the show rolled around. Rob came up to film the opening too. The show featured two other artists who have worked with artist’s studios as subject matter- Joe Fig and Richard Haas. Their work was incredible and very different from Lori’s . It was a great crowd, very well attended! One guy we met had been an actor back in the day and had done some acting on “Peewee’s Playhouse”. Wow!
As for Rob and Nol’s film project, who knows. We’ll do some more formal interviews and leave it in their very capable hands to bring it to fruition. On the face of it, just saying “yes” to some random guys might seem a little crazy, but that is how we have met some amazing people and become part of some great projects. Can’t wait to see how they pull it all together!
The show at the Bruce Museum ran through March 9, 2014. Two of Lori’s images, Subway and The Living Room, were included in American Photo’s33 Best Images of the Year for 2013.
You can check out dates for her solo exhibits here.