Born 1960, Brooklyn, New York
A graduate of New York’s School of Visual Art, Lorna Simpson pursued her MFA at the University of California, San Diego, in the mid-1980s, which placed language, feminism, and critical use of photography and film at the center of her practice. Some of her best-known works pair photographs of a black female model in spare settings with words clipped from vernacular speech. Because Simpson’s figures are often fragmented or turned with their backs toward the viewer, her phototexts refuse to cohere into any one fixed meaning. Rather, they throw social discourses of race and gender into suspension, resulting in ambiguities that are nevertheless circumscribed by cultural habits of seeing and thinking. Simpson’s turn to film in the 1990s and into the new century continued to impede straightforward narratives of her work, as she experimented with cinematic tropes from noir and classic Hollywood films.
Around this time, Simpson began to collect photo-booth pictures from flea markets, thrift stores, and online sources. Simple search terms such as “home movie” and “African American” on eBay prompted her to purchase a 2 1/4-inch amateur photograph of an unidentified African American woman from 1957, along with the album of which it was a part. This “readymade” photographic archive brought her explorations of black femininity and desire together in the project 1957–2009.
The group of images from 1957 features a youthful woman and her male collaborator in photographs reminiscent of a period fashion shoot, filled with coy gazes, leggy poses, alluring clothes, and penetrating close-ups. Domestic suburban settings infuse the series with a sense of intimacy and playfulness absent from the foundations of Simpson’s cool and detached critical deconstructions. Fascinated by this record of performance from decades earlier, Simpson—in a rare occurrence—inserted herself before the camera and recreated scenes from selected images. She hung the original found images alongside her photographic reenactments, resulting in a group of more than one hundred pictures that blurs the lines between past and present, fiction and fact, personhood and impersonations, and positions between artist, subject, and audience.
Jones, Kellie, Thelma Golden, and Chrissie Iles. Lorna Simpson. London and New York: Phaidon, 2002.
Simon, Joan, et al. Lorna Simpson. Munich and New York: DelMonico Books-Prestel, for the Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2013.