Nikki S. Lee is a photojournalist who mimics the diverse cultures of the world. She is a Korean-born artiste who lives and works in New York. She has been involved in exploration of numerous dimensions of societal identity in series of snapshots. This paper agues in the context of the many faces of Nikki Lee stretching identity to fit the demands of the various global cultures. In the image number 6 of Nikki Lee’s The Punk Project, sequence of two punks is placed on the cement stairs of an innocuous construction. He has directly cropped Mohawk and wears concealment pants made of leather jacket, which is thrown crosswise his lap. She also wears ripped net socks over her stripped tights, and a transparent black blouse with brown bra beneath. There is no posturing in the photo, but she is caught in relaxed discussion. The picture captures a non-moment – a photograph that might elicit a moment and generate special memory for those who are involved or their immediate friends, and the photo is a snap of punk itself. It is an archival image that represents a memory of thirty years of punk record, from the sexual characteristics pistols’ drug-raging rebellion and working class rejection to the present punk, which appears an untainted, fashion-plate industry description of its prior to itself. The image obstructs the viewer from the subjective, community, and historical facts. And since it is a snap, the question of the validity cannot be asked (Schneider 242).
The Punk Project is one of the many series of images in which Nikki Lee extends the boundaries of identities and location, of what our identity is and the perception of people in propinquity and those people who surround the image. She places herself on the frame of the photograph, converting herself into predictable subject after developing the background and the environment of the performing stage. She performs identity-reinventing herself – typecasts, codes, cues, and media publicity, which examines different cultures across the many communities, penetrates to the communities, and provides a different style of herself. She becomes a respected tourist investigating her identity within a subculture, extending the very skin of her rich identity to find a fit. Her photographs provide a rich background in constructing a community and ego of the societal responsibilities and what it takes to proclaim self-identity /or classified by other cultures. At first instance, there is no problem of legitimacy of Lee’s photographs, we are used to this language of photograph making since we have once experienced it. The images are real because they are devoid of the deception of studio or style imaging, and the reality of the moment, which stresses its truth (Kaplan 343).
In the image number 5, The Drag Queen Project, Lee takes the photograph in bleached-blonde toupee, thick make-up, and tight blue vinyl dress with other three tow queens. This image and those which resemble it in The Drag Queen Project, in which Lee’s drag queen is seen in the parties and bars with her fellow drag queens, which shows tales of friendship and society, which is global and quietly penetrates into the subconscious, being which is incontestably real. The pictures are like the everyday images, which might represent an occurrence on the individual timeline of those involved. However, like the inside joke, those who are out of the circle can miss the photo’s punch line. The image of Lee as photojournalist is egoless outside her images, as she has constructed herself many times over from diverse communities inwards. Nikki’s frames are not scrupulously developed. It is the background of the construction that is significant. Nikki does not only perform her own subject. She surrenders control over her frame by giving the camera to a member of her society, to a friend, or passer-by who takes the snap thus catching Nikki in her own persona full with background and environment. Nikki takes a considerable useful time with the members of the society and experiences their culture. Nikki’s philosophy of art follows the art of content and subject – of honoring and paying homage to it in order to understand herself. The “Outdoor Piece” is a prerogative performance, which is an example of the way the environment defines an individual and the way the surrounding adds value to the individual’s identity (Schneider 244).
Nikki’s project productions are also suggestive of Cindy Sherman’s scrupulously developed Untitled Film Stills productions, which were created between 1977 and 1980. Sherman exploited the visual language of pictures by employing the use of single-frame scenes to depict and re-contextualize the feminism subject by delicately staging typecasts of women in film. Nikki is neither concerned of women only, nor is she specifically focused on deconstructing the position of others within her projects. She dwells on the issue of truth by staging her performances within the truth she develops in her performances. Nikki is seen as a civilizing survival – a “Where’s Waldo” of identity –concurrently coming in and out of culturally identified communities. In the image number two of The Hispanic Project, Nikki stages her performance in Latina who takes a snap with a friend at parade or other kind of outdoor activity. Nikki puts on a lip-liner, carved eyebrows, and elegant locks of hair piled unsteadily on her head. At this point we portray Nikki as Hispanic, the layers of her transformation indicated in her own vision. Since Nikki readily stages her performances on race, sexual identity, class, age, and gender. Her productions cannot be merely reduced to an ethnographical effort at depicting “Otherness” (Kaplan 345).
It is clear that Nikki exploits acquaintance of her audience with a snap photography at a moment when each individual and everyone are progressively playing the part of photographer where the consumer market is flooded with digital cameras and picture-capturing cell phones. Through this, Nikki is in a position of marketing the multiple lines of truth via the globally understood logistics and voice of the snap. Her audience can comprehend those within the frame and the other party taking the snap since the same experience has been encountered at some point in time. Parts, Nikki’s latest productions, continue to exploit the element of this language of photographing and its reliance on narrative. In addition, she incorporates a layer of explanation and attaches its significance on the reading of images by eliminating some sections in the photograph. Some parts of the image are missing leaving the audience to wonder about the inadequacy and significance of the inadequacy. Nikki applies the use of the white border strategy snapshot processing to show that the image is unfinished. The border permits the images’ content to leak out into a free space, where the audience projects and fills in the missing information (Schneider 243).
In “Part 15,” skyscrapers emerge at the back of a blue building wall in the background setting with Nikki in the foreground, her hands in the air. It is archetypal tourist photograph that captures its models not at their best. However, Nikki’s editing line eliminates some parts showing that the woman and half of the image are removed. The use of blue sky frames has thoughtfully distorted the images of skyscrapers at the top of the photograph, and the blue construction wall both encloses these structures and analogously reflects the sky. The white boundary imitates the line of the structures. However, the eyes guide the mind to the objects at the bottom, and her missing partner’s photograph. “Parts” plays with missing tales and aggressively engages the audience, sensational triangular relationship between the individual in the frame and the audience. The audience becomes forensic detectives examining and looking for narrative hints to the story that Nikki is withholding from the audience. In “Part 14,” a stoic Nikki is seated at the back of her car and looks ahead. In the snap, an arm stretches from the outer region of the image around the neck while the hand relaxes on her shoulder. These are the complete details the image displays, the other details are cut out of the image (Kaplan 346).
”Part 14” fuels narrative projection because of the familiarity implied in the puzzling arm around Nikki, and her firm position and expression. The frame slows an instant to a standstill, which catches the spirit of experience and supports it as memory. The snapshot photography entails the promotion of memory through experience and artlessness of its capture, of changing the predictable and everyday into immediate makers of time and familiarity. Nikki influences the audiences’ nostalgia for photographs, the audience voyeuristic inquisitiveness and the desire to fill in the missing links in the images in order to understand the whole image and to know the story behind the Nikkis’ Projects. Nikki explores the speculations implied in the individual leaving the audience to struggle with both what is inside and outside the frame, and the way the frame becomes the authenticity in the first instance. Nikki’s photographs make the audience question the art-factual reliability of the snapshots, society, and culture while allowing the audience to enjoy the diverse faces of constructed identity and memory (Schneider 244).