Interview with…Nicole Lesser

Interview by Martin Sekera, photography editor
Photos by Nicole Lesser

How would you describe your photography? What do you think has been the most significant transformation in your work?

I’ve put more of an emphasis on transcending my ideas through the image in the process of making each photograph. Each image is poignant, whether subtle or strong, in its display of that idea. I use props and styling that will help display my point visually, because that’s what its about, transcending visual messages. It is important that they are more than pretty pictures.

What was it like to grow up in LA? What inspired you to move to NY?

It was okay, although I found it superficial in relation to where I was going to high school, and once I could get out, I did. But now, after 5 years in NYC, I am back. NY inspired me because it had an intense feeling when I was actually there. I would see taxicabs and buildings and crossing the street I felt I WAS IN NEW YORK, it felt palpable. But it’s an aggressive city in which breaks are essential. Brooklyn is awesome. It is also nice to make work away from cities as well, to change up the landscape.

What is main inspiration for your work? References? Influence? Do you work spontaneously or do you plan ahead?

I work both spontaneously and plan ahead, I used to be more spontaneous but find it more helpful now to sketch out ideas prior to execution, and create the scene. The people in my life, who influence me and expose me to new ideas and lifestyles, inspire me the most. But, inspiration comes from literally everything, from classical art to everyday experiences. I am a believer in filth and the subversive. I still love Larry Clark. Some favorite authors are: Margaret Atwood, Lois Lawry, Charles Bukowski, Jeffrey Eugenides. Artists: Richard Kern, Laurie Anderson, Larry Clark, Jack Pierson, Caravaggio, Gregg Araki. Francesca Woodman was the first photographer I ever discovered. I love all sorts of stupid tacky shit too.

What advise would you give to young starting artists how to get into the industry? How did you get there?

Start getting in contact with artists you admire. In high school, I was contacting people in Los Angeles, before I even moved to NY I was contacting photographers in NY. I worked for a few different people, and met with more. Each experience helps you gain insight; I learned how different people work. Also, what I liked to do, and what I did not want to end up doing. I think a younger person working for someone more experienced gets a lot of opportunity to learn onset, and the chance to meet people involved in that industry. Getting hands on experience is the best way to learn.

How is it to work with Ryan McGinley?

I started interning for him five years ago. Now, I’m his editor. It was great when I was a freshman and sophomore in college, to go to his studio, and be surrounded by his artwork and inspiration all the time. To see someone who is really inspired and excited, where their art is their world. I gained a humble experience watching him grow with success and transform his own artwork, and career, and being a part of it. He really cares for the people who are a part of his world, and it makes working for him a rewarding experience.

How do you find your models? Are they your friends, lovers or people you see on the street captivate your imagination?

My models are my friends. They are people who are close to me, and allow me to photograph them in an intimate way.

Most of your work are photographs of women, are you exploring a theme?

Somewhat, but I like to photograph men too. I tend to feminize men. It is not really about one or the other, I find men and women and everyone beautiful and interesting. I think the more interesting theme is that of androgyny, embracing all forms of gender, not objectifying them. Androgyny and incorporating queer themes is important in my work.

What does it mean for you to be an artist?

Being an artist means to create work for yourself, and others, and art. I think that there is a difference between the artistic and commercial side of photography, specifically. But I think that someone who creates for their own salvation will create true art. Creating work for something that you believe in is important. I do not believe that art created purely for superficial means works out in the end…. You can see through it.

What do you think is the relationship between the artist and substance abuse?

Artists can be extreme in their mind and thoughts, and perhaps the use of drugs elevates them to a more creative place. The abuse part may come later. I also think that some artists are more in touch with a dark side and the subversive.

Can we be friends?

Yeah sure.

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