Some of LORI NIX’s commercial Clients/Projects with NIX & GERBER Studio include: Kahlúa, Lacey, Oreo Laboratorium, Greenpeace, Time Magazine, GEO Magazine, Sushi, Coppers, Field and Stream Magazine, WHIT, Toronto Life Magazine, Sportello, On Earth Magazine, Wired, The Dig, Oprah, New York Magazine, Lyme Life, Scion…
LORI NIX is one of those ‘rare birds’ that aren’t just happy with flying the conventional way, because creating entire miniature tabletop worlds, just to be the subjects of photography is an out-of-the-box concept these days when Photoshop and the like reign -producing great creations, too- and, for which artists like Lori, requires heaps of work and dedication to materialise.
Yet, once it does is absolutely spellbinding and well worth the effort.
Especially if the talent is applied, like in Lori’s case, to both the creation of the subject and its portrayal, resulting in powerful messages, superb atmospheres and wicked dream-like scenes, a knock-out kind of art.
WONDERLANCER: Lori, it’s a pleasure to interview you, we are absolutely mesmerized with your amazing and original traditional photography, thank you for your time. When did you start creating miniature worlds to use as your photography subjects and how did you come up with that idea in the first place?
LORI NIX: I started shooting tabletop dioramas in 1997, right after I left graduate school. I was living in a small attic apartment at the time. Stranded without a studio space, I decided to use my kitchen table as my studio.
I came to photographing dioramas because of the kind of photographer that I am not. I was a photojournalist for my college newspaper and I quickly realized I was not very driven to follow current campus topic and catch them on film. I’m also a shy individual, so engaging people to sit for portraits was out of the question. There was really no prospects for commercial photography in the town I was living in, so that was out of the question. I was also a recent graduate and therefore quite strapped for cash, so travel photography was not possible. And lastly, I live pretty much in my head and less and less in the present, so being a street shooter would require me to be cognizant of my surrounding. I failed there too. These are the kinds of photographer that I am not.
The summer after graduate school I was in Chicago to attend an exhibition of my work. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Arts and encountered a large retrospective of the photographer Richard Misrach. The museum was displaying very large photographs from his Desert Cantos series. This was a series of work dedicated to many years exploring all the aspects of the desert southwest, especially man’s impact on the desert. I started to reflect upon my own life and quickly realized I have not lived in places for long periods of time. But, most of my life was spent moving around the Midwest, living in Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri. It’s pretty much the middle of the United States. When I stepped in front of his photos, I immediately had an epiphany. I didn’t want to travel back to the state of Kansas to explore my history, but rather bring Kansas to my studio. Remember, I wasn’t up for travel. I went to the local bookstore and purchased a “how to” book on building model train scenery, thus my forays into constructing dioramas began on my kitchen table.
WONDERLANCER: Apart from the Kansas landscape you also have a predilection for apocalyptic scenes; would you share with our readers about where these predilections come from? What other topics are you hoping to explore and recreate in your work?
LORI NIX: The Midwest, and the state of Kansas in particular, isn’t known for much beyond farming and really extreme weather. As a child I have experienced firsthand blizzards, tornados, floods, drought and insect infestations. Each season brings with it its own meteorological issues. It’s usually the first topic of conversation. The inspiration for the series “Accidentally Kansas” comes from my childhood experiences, peppered with a bit of exaggeration. I have lived in New York City for eleven years now, but will always be a Midwesterner at heart. I love the rolling hills, the fields of corn and wheat, the county roads that run in straight lines. It has inspired other series such as Some Other Place and Lost and it will continue to have a presence in my work.
I was also raised during a time when disaster movies were quite popular entertainment. At a very young age I was watching such dystopian movies such as “Planet of the Apes”, the ocean liner sinking in “Poseidon Adventure”, “Towering Inferno” about a skyscraper catching on fire, and “Airport 1975” about a doomed airplane heading for a disastrous landing. My favorite film, and the one that has had the most influence on me and still inspires my work, is a science fiction film called “Logan’s Run”. It was a novel made into a movie that “depicts a dystopic ageist future society in which both population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by requiring the death of everyone reaching a particular age”
Because of these two events, the landscape and weather of Kansas, coupled with the kinds of movies I was thrilled to watch as a young child, I have remained fascinated by the possibility of an apocalypse, either through our military actions, or the quick demise of the planet. I am afraid, and the best way to confront these fears is through art and humor.
The City – Map Room | © LORI NIX
WONDERLANCER: It must take a seriously lengthy process to design and create many of the table-top worlds you have photographed, especially in the case of your amazing series titled The City. Do you normally have help to build them? How long did it take you to create the ‘simplest’ piece in that collection?
LORI NIX: There are two of us involved in the building process, myself and my assistant Kathleen. We work to each other’s strength. I come up with the concept, the color pallet and build the architectural structure. She is responsible for creating some of the objects that go into the scene. If it’s small and complex, most likely she has created it. She’s also good an aging the interiors and making them look old and decrepit. Once the scene is in the final stages, her work is done and it is up to me to light the scene and photograph it until I am happy with the results. The longest scene has taken fifteen months to construct, the simplest scene took about a month. We work on several scenes at one time. If I am lucky, I will construct and shoot three scenes a year.
WONDERLANCER: Wow, just what we thought. What type of camera do you regularly use? And what techniques did you employ to make the Unnatural History series appear like a true time travel jump into the mid-30s of film and television?
Unnatural History – Diver | © LORI NIX
LORI NIX: I am an old fashioned photographer in the sense that I shoot an 10×8 large format camera and film. I shoot this format for both my color work and my black and white work. For the Unnatural History series, I make platinum/palladium prints, simply contacting the film on heavy drawing paper. I specifically wanted this series to look old and thought this alternative process would be the best way to achieve this look and still remain a traditional photographic process. I probably could have done it digitally, but that would not be very satisfying for me. I like working with my hands at all stages of the photographic process, from building the scenes to processing the film to printing the work.
I work on the Unnatural History series whenever there is a slow period during the color work. Since I do not work fast in color, the black and white keeps my photographic skills fresh and keeps me feeling like a photographer.
WONDERLANCER: And then we find the sharp multicolour ambience and phenomenal lighting of Lost, from which, once again, we can’t pinpoint a favourite, it’s impossible 😀 You have never used digital manipulation but have you ever been approached by any film studio to recreate and photograph scenes that they could later manipulate digitally? Would it be something that you could contemplate doing if asked? What would you like to do that you have not done yet?
LORI NIX: A few years ago I did create a small scene for the movie “Lyme Life”. It was a model of an early style of suburb, often referred to as a Levittown. This type of suburb had small simple houses of the same or very similar style, very manicured lawns with little landscaping. This model was used as an actual prop in the movie and they also filmed it like a location, panning down the street for use in the opening titles and in between scenes. They did not do additional manipulation digitally. It was exciting to see how they would use and interpret what I built. It was a good experience and I enjoyed the collaboration. It would also be fun to create something for either a video game or an interactive artwork.
WONDERLANCER: Have you ever dreamed of any of your scenes prior thinking on working on it? And after?
LORI NIX: My dreams are so disjointed that rarely does my artwork appear in them. Most of my inspiration comes to me during my morning commute to my day job. I get some of my best ideas while riding the subway in the morning. I write my ideas down and keep them on my blackberry for future reference. I can’t draw, so sketchbooks get misplaced in the studio. My phone is always on me.
WONDERLANCER: There is a consistent environmental message throughout your photography, as it clearly depicts the increasing amount of contamination that we are provoking and the waste that we are accumulating, particularly in industrialized countries. Your Some Other Place series is yet again another clear example of what it looks like a huge concern to you. What are your general views on the global state of affairs at a social level, not only environmental?
Some Other Place – Lovers’ Leap | © LORI NIX
LORI NIX: I hope the young people of today realize that it will be up to them to fix our world and preserve it for the generations to come. People of my generation and older are starting the conversation, but little else. Right now we are mired in politics and placing too much emphasis on personal gain. It won’t be until the situation becomes dire that things will begin to change. I hope the younger generation can come together as a unified voice and temperament and start the healing process. If we stop being selfish and start thinking as a whole, we might save ourselves.
WONDERLANCER: You’ve been exhibiting profusely, whether solo or in group exhibits since 1997 till these days. Are you already concocting your next project? And what do you wish for your future?
LORI NIX: I’m already working on my next scene and researching the scene after that. I would tell you what I’m working on and planning next, but I’m kind of superstitious about voicing my plans, therefore you will have to wait and see what comes next…. For the future, I have been following the careers of several of my fellow diorama artists and cannot wait to meet them in person.
WONDERLANCER: Lori, again, we are delighted to feature your work.
Below you can find the link to Lori’s website to view more samples of her work and keep up to date with all of her projects and future exhibitions, as well as to NIX & GERBER official Studio, which features most of their commercial work. Enjoy!