Photographer Nadia Lee Cohen Transforms into Eclectic Characters Inspired by Second-Hand Badges

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Fast food worker Jeff has a barrel chest, thick eyebrows and a mustache. He has a campaign badge for former US President Richard Nixon, keeps his antacid pills handy, and he has what might be the smallest “World’s Greatest Dad” trophy ever. In one music video, he smokes a cigarette, speaking in a southern drawl. “You know those people who go to Paris or Rome, fly back, get off the plane and kiss the ground, so happy to be on American soil?” He pauses. “Well, I do that when I get home on Fridays. My house, my house, my garden, my weekend.”

But gruff, small-town Jeff doesn’t really exist – he’s one of 33 characters portrayed by British fashion photographer and director Nadia Lee Cohen, who created them from her collection of labels. nominative.

In “Hello, My Name Is,” which Cohen published in book form last year, the artist transforms into each fictional person using makeup and prosthetics, then photographs two portraits – one of themselves in character and other possessions they might possess. The work is featured at Cohen’s solo exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch in Los Angeles, including new music videos for each character, as well as a conveyor belt of collected props and clothing. (The show also includes works from the gripping “Women” film series, featuring Alexa Demie and Charli XCX among its subjects.)

The cast of characters includes Brenda, a store attendant who reads romance novels and collects Elvis memorabilia; Diane, an ear-piercing specialist who loves Billy Idol and has a healthy dose of teenage disillusionment with the world; and Teena, a puffed-up Pizza Hut worker who says in her music video that the strong woman she admires in her life is herself.

Nadia Lee Cohen’s self-portrait series imagines 33 different characters and their possessions based on badges she collected from thrift stores and flea markets. Credit: Nadia Lee Cohen/Jeffrey Deitch

In department store employee Claudia’s collection of personal items, she has a pink VHS tape to improve her golf game, a single chicken cutlet bra insert and a wide white award ribbon of a unnamed event from 1982. She wears her hair short and feathery and poses in a polished red skirt with matching nails. In her video, Claudia laments, in a chic British accent, that a new colleague has started copying her style.

“One day I said, ‘Sorry, with all due respect, this needs to stop. It will never work. You just don’t have the features,'” Cohen said as Claudia. “I think it broke his heart.”

Gallery director Melahn Frierson says it’s the “humanistic quality they all inhabit” that makes each imagined character so endearing.

“I think there are characters that people might like more, but they’re all so close,” she said. “Some characters remind you of family members or friends you’ve met.”

She is particularly drawn to the way Cohen plays with the line between artifice and candor. Instead of the carefully crafted portrayals of real lives that play out on social media, Cohen does the opposite, aiming for vignettes of genuine honesty from each imagined person. They’re envious and proud and insecure and clumsy, with their inner lives captured in the brevity of two images and a 30-second video clip.

“They don’t have a filter and I think that’s what’s amazing. When you see her play every character, they’re so unabashed themselves, which I think is so refreshing,” said Frierson.

And while each person has clues to the time or place thanks to Cohen’s style and playful accents – depicting both the US and UK between the 1960s and 90s – they can’t have it all. to be placed, defying easy caricature.

“With each character, she really connects and cares about them,” Frierson said. “She’s very protective, which I think shows that as well.”

Hello my Name Isis on view at the Jeffrey Deitch in Los Angeles through August 13.

Video credits: Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles.


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