I was talking about self-portraiture with a class last week, and we had a look at Nikki S. Lee’s Projects series, where among other thigns she acts out being much older, or much younger, or Latina. There are photographs of her hanging with and looking a like a crowd of punk rockers or with some Japanese school girls. We’re all performing our identities to some extent, and what Lee does is put herself as a kind of control or emissary into this variety of situations as a way to emphasise the constructedness of identity.
(Video from Vice, The Creators Project)
Another series is Parts, where she gets pictures of herself with fictional boyfriends and husbands, and then cuts out the part of the photo with the man. It’s a way of asking how much relationships define the person—in some she looks disconnected, in others, it’s just an ordinary snapshot with nothing immediately apparent that’s lacking.
Lee’s Projects and Parts, coming as they in the early 2000s, predated the ubiquitious tide of the selfie, but they fit into the same discourse around performing and artifice and representations of minority identities that circulates around selfie-making.
As the clip above shows, even when she’s making a documentary about herself, she’s pretending. But aren’t we all, most of the time?