Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee is a Korean born photographer who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography in Korea. She then moved to the United States, completed an undergraduate degree in commercial photography and went on to obtain her Master of Arts in photography at the New York University.

Masquerade photography is all about putting on a disguise or adopting a role in order to say something about the world, be it political, fantasy or personal. Masquerade allows for role play and it is often easier to say something controversial when in disguise. Lee is well-known for pushing the boundaries of identity and culture in her self-portraits. In her Projects series she identifies a subculture, researches the group and integrates with that group for a period of about three months, adopting their dress and mannerisms and customs. Once she feels that she has assimilated into the group successfully she asks a random stranger passing by or a friend to take a photograph of her with her new “friends”. Her camera of choice for this series was a simple point and shoot camera as she wanted the photographs to look like snapshots.

She performs identity – reinventing herself with the stereotypes, media hype, codes, and clues that look into and out from a given community, infiltrates that community, and presents us with a new version of herself.

Dayna McLeod

Lee evaluates her work on two criteria, namely how successfully she has managed to integrate herself into the subculture group she has chosen and the believability of the taken photograph. It is often said that to form a new habit takes twenty one days, so the mere act of living within a specific subculture for three months would make Lee’s performance of the ‘new’ identity quite authentic. I do have to wonder, as an aside though, if she felt comfortable in all those subcultures. I believe that the very act of handing the camera over to a someone else to take the photograph is probably sufficient proof of her comfort in her new identity.

Looking at individual photos of Lee’s Projects series we are not really aware of the subtle anomaly present i.e. Lee herself. But once we put the images together and look at them as a whole we become aware of Lee and start to look for her in her new, changing identity. We begin to see that identify is fluid, ever changing. It is through her relationships with her friends that she comes to terms with her own identity.

Reference List

McLeod, Dayna. Stretching Identity to Fit: The Many Faces of Nikki S. Lee [online] Ciel Variable Archives. Available from: [Accessed 15 October, 2015]

Photographer Nikki S. Lee Can Turn into Anyone [vidcast, online] The Creators Project 21/07/2010. 6 mins 47secs. (accessed 29/10/2015)


Allison, Amanda (2009). ‘Identity in Flux: Exploring the Work of Nikki S. Lee’ In: Art Education, Vol. 62, (No 1) pp. 25 – 31.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto Focus: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography. London: Thames & Hudson

Lee, Nikki S [online]. National Museum of Women in the Arts. Available from: [Accessed 15 October, 2015]


2 thoughts on “Nikki S. Lee”

  1. thanks for introducing me to this photographer… I am going to have a closer look at her work… I am interested in her notion of shifting thru these different cultural scenes (and what may remain constant); I think that becoming part of sth may take a fair bit longer tho, so I am curious at the dissonances within. For the next section of Digital Image I will look at Eijkelboom’s work… he turned up at suburbian houses during daytime to pose as the father/husband of the family… they are fanstatic, awkward images (and quite creepy really).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s