Nadia Lee Cohen is smoking hot. Fresh out of London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion Photography, Nadia seems to us a superhuman: she won the Taylor Wessing prize and was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery at the age of 22, and a book full of her intriguing images is due to be published next year. Stunned, we got her to tell us all about it.
Hi Nadia! Please could you give me the lowdown on yourself? You’re 24 years old, from London, living in Brighton and have done an MA at London College of Fashion in Fashion Photography…
I started at LCF at a young age studying ‘Fashion Portfolio’ and then went on to study Fashion styling and Photography. During the course we had to choose whether to take the route of stylist or photographer, it was literally a decision made one afternoon. I was doing a lot of styling back then so I have no idea why I chose photographer, but obviously I’m glad I did.
I then went on to do the MA in Fashion Photography, which I have just graduated. This was my favourite period at LCF as my course director Paul Bevan was incredibly supportive towards my work and pretty much trusted me to have complete creative freedom, which has resulted in my most successful series yet, 100 Naked Women.
I moved in with a couple of close friends who live in Brighton a year ago, but I am temporarily a London gypsy moving from house to house until I leave for LA again.
Any weird traits?
I love ’70s punk music, my nails are always lime green, I collect people’s name tags, I like to write morbid messages on birthday cakes, I like to dress up as Ronald McDonald and I like to paint my face blue.
What will you be doing in LA? What’s next for you?
My best friend and I always say that we don’t like to think too much in LA. We just like things to happen and pretend it’s a dream world because it really does feel that way. So, I’m not too sure what we’ll get up to out there, but hopefully it will be just as weird and hilarious as last time when we met some beautiful and interesting people who are now close friends.
I’m currently in the middle of a lengthy project called 100 Naked Women which is literally what it says on the tin. All my blood, sweat and tears are going into it as it’s a really important project for me. I anticipate to have it complete for early to mid 2016 and will hold a solo gallery show of the images in conjunction with the book release.
The women in your imagery seem to be described in media mostly as “strong”, “voluptuous”, “Amazons”, “bold” and “powerful”. Yet I seem to feel quite unsettled by a sense of melancholy and “housewife crazy”. There’s a darkness to the glossiness in your images. What’s that about?
Well thank you! I just get bored with anything typically pretty, and I enjoy the melancholic, both in art and cinema. I tend to create false situations for the characters so the models act out a part in the photograph rather than just standing there looking pretty.
Much of your imagery is hyper-sexualised yet there’s again this depth to it. Is there a more profound thought than “naked women make for attractive pictures”?
Obviously I want my images to be aesthetically pleasing, and there is nothing quite as pleasing as the female form in all its glorious shapes and sizes. However, I am a woman and have grown up surrounded by fashion imagery so this has had some effect on what imagery I produce.
I would never want to inflict strong opinions on what message the viewer should be receiving as it is all subjective, which is why I will never really say what the photographs mean to me as they will mean something different to everyone.
Also you seem to be nodding towards consumerism with brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s featured. What’s the story there?
I simply love graphics and advertisements, I also enjoy the horror stories and negative connotations that are often held with fast food.
Watching your Hula, Tequila and Sleaze video you made for Vice, I’m really loving getting to know your characters. Who are they?
Haha! Yes the characters are incredible and were so important to the feel of the shoot. They’re mostly close friends from Brighton that I’ve stared at from time to time and thought to myself ‘god you’d make an incredible pervert’. There are some really awesome characterful faces in that town.
What’s with the nostalgia?
My awesome Mumma raised me in a house crammed with Victoriana and used to drag me along to antique warehouses and auctions to hunt for objects. I guess I had to find something to get into otherwise I would have been bored shitless, so I chose 1960s and ’70s Britain and America.
I understand you style your images yourself. You must have a lot of props lying around for such intricate sets?
I style a lot of images myself, but I also work alongside a lot of talented stylists.
I have so many props it’s ridiculous, but I’m slowly selling them off as I can’t be a London gypsy with all that bullshit in tow. At one point I had a life–size fake palm tree plonked in the centre of my tiny London flat, and my flatmates thought it best to hold a mini intervention with me as it was becoming a problem.
I recognise photographers such as David LaChapelle and maybe even Guy Bourdin in your work. Hitchcock, Kubrick, Wes Anderson et al seem to be a given too? Where did you get your immaculate vision from?
Thank you! The fashion element is obviously there because I spent five years at fashion college, but it definitely isn’t through studying fashion magazines because I honestly never look at them. I get my inspiration from cinema and cinematic photography, so yes to Hitchcock, Kubrick and Wes Anderson! I always get compared to David LaChapelle, I’m not sure why as I really don’t see it; I guess it’s the saturated colour.
You won the Taylor Wessing prize at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012. I’m guessing that was fun!
All the Taylor Wessing stuff happened when I was just 22 so it was super exciting. The photograph was a controversial choice for the judges and got a lot of stick from critics, but that made it even better. It helped to get my work more widely known and it was just the coolest feeling, knowing my print was in the National Portrait Gallery. I haven’t entered since – maybe I should again.
Images by Nadia Lee Cohen