For the Photographer Nadia Lee Cohen, Dressing Up is a Profession

Cohen’s previous book, Women, whose third edition was released in the spring of last year, contains hundreds of nude women of all races, sizes, and identities, posing separately within the confines of a dingy motel. Unlike Hello My Name Is…, this series took seven years to produce because Cohen created the photos as she would film stills rather than static images. There’s a voyeuristic element to these images and, despite their setting, the work feels strangely enchanting—reminiscent of David Lynch’s 1986 thriller, Blue Velvet. “Lynch has that ability to inflict those mixed feelings by his choice of music, character, and environment,” Cohen says. “If you feel something similar from the photographs I’ve taken, I’m flattered.” But for Cohen, the juxtaposition isn’t always calculated. “I don’t sit down and think ‘how can I convey these mixed feelings?’ But, when I dissect my own images, I can see a repeating pattern where glamour exists in unlikely places.”

Scarlet from Nadia Lee Cohen’s Women

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Cohen credits her father for her photographic eye. She notes that her father was constantly carrying a VHS, and when she turned 12, Cohen curated some of his photographs in a bright red photo album. “They were all of his worst works: A dead fish, a car wheel, or a mound of dirt. Maybe this was an initiation into ‘humor’ in photography and the ability to say something funny with pictures rather than words.” Photographers like Martin Parr, Richard Billingham, Larry Sultan, and Nick Waplington, also influenced her when she discovered them while studying at the London College of Fashion. “They all share that unique ability to show humor amongst raw reality, and their photographs are probably responsible for me finding the comedy in banal things.”

As Cohen’s career progressed, her work has received significant accolades. In 2012, “American Nightmare,” an image inspired by The Shining, was nominated for the British National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. Since then, her work has found its way into the Victoria Gallery House Gallery of London, and she has directed music videos for Kali Uchis, Tyler, The Creator, A$AP Rocky, and more.

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