Lori Nix


Written by Kate Kelsall
17 Tuesday 17th April 2012

Library © Lori Nix

You are certainly not a photojournalist in the traditional sense of the word, since the disasters you capture are of your own creation. Tell us about your artistic background and subsequently how you would label yourself, if at all.

Most people know me as a photographer and I guess I would call myself a photographer as well, even though most of my time is dedicated to building three dimensional objects and spaces. If I’m lucky, I step behind the camera three times in a year.

Over the years I have come to realise what kind of photographer I was not going to be. I’m never really mentally present in my daily surroundings, I’m usually lost in la-la land as I make my way to work, so being a street shooter or a photojournalist was not a natural path for me to follow. I don’t see many things that happen around me. I’m also kind of a shy person, so no weddings or portraits for me. Lastly, I’m more of a homebody than a world traveler, so travel photography just isn’t in my blood. I like to be in my own environment and create my image rather than go in search of it.

Plane © Lori Nix

Your work obsesses over themes of destruction and disaster. Where did this come from and how has it impacted your art?

I grew up in a small town in western Kansas called Norton, population 3500. We had two traffic lights. The only constant forms of entertainment were the weather and the television. Every season brought a new weather-related occurrence. As a child I experienced blizzards, floods, drought, tornadoes, hail storms and excessive insect infestations feasting on the local farm crops. When you are just a child, these are quite entertaining events that bring the people together.

Laundromat at Night © Lori Nix

On television I watched a lot of dystopian movies popular in the 1970s, such as Towering Inferno, Planet of the Apes, Earthquake and Airport 75. In each of these movies, man overcame some sort of disaster. These movies left me overjoyed by my fear of the event I was watching coupled with an odd feeling of salvation.

These two kinds of entertainment have greatly influenced my photography. I usually pair some form of disaster and dystopia with a touch of humor to deflate the seriousness.

Majestic - work in progress

Where do you find inspiration?

Most of my ideas come to me on my morning commute to work. Something about the subway, the need to create my own space while rubbing shoulders with a complete stranger, and the light that the floods the subway car as it hurtles out of the tunnel and over the Manhattan Bridge is inspiring. All of these come together to create the perfect environment for me to lose myself and come up with ideas to explore. I keep notes on my phone of potential scenes. If I like them after two years, then I’ll set about creating them in the studio.

Mall © Lori Nix

Your work is labour intensive and involves no digital manipulation. Talk us through the creative processes and techniques that go into your projects.

I start each new diorama with research, either through books or with Google images for visual reference but if I can visit an actual place I will. For my Aquarium scene, I visited the New York Aquarium at Coney Island and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I’ll take my point and shoot camera to capture some of the building details, but mostly I rely on my memories of the place, the quality of light, the color palette.

My partner Kathleen and I sit down and sketch out the floor plan of the new diorama, take notes on what we want to include in the scene, then we start purchasing the needed art supplies to begin construction. We work in a variety of scales, sometimes 1:12, other times 1:8 and so on. 

I’ll work on the fabricating the walls, floors, ceiling, architectural elements and any sturdy furniture. Kathleen’s specialty is the fine detail work such as sculpting tools, chairs, debris etc. I decide on the color palette and lighting and she distresses the scenes with paint and washes to give them their aged and dirty pallor. 

Lori at work on The Beauty Shop

What does seeing the world in miniature bring to our understanding of it?

I don’t know that I have a really good answer for that. What I do know is it allows me the freedom to construct a world of my choosing. Through this I can juxtapose objects or spaces that don’t normally exist to create a slightly different narrative. I have control of the scale, colors and viewpoint, and I like that.

So 2012 - do you predict apocalypse?

Absolutely not. We’re going to be here for a long time, although our future might not be so rosy as it is now. I predict hotter temperatures, crazy weather cycles, and our continual denial that we’re on the wrong path towards sustainability.

Flood © Lori Nix

Presuming the world is still around to see it, what direction can we expect from your art in the future?

I’ve been working on The City series since 2005, yet I still have images I want to create. I think I’ll be working in this vein for a handful of years to come. But I’m already thinking of other projects I want to explore and will hopefully carve out enough time to work on these new ideas while still working on city scenes. I’m pretty good with multi-tasking.

To see more of Lori’s tiny but mighty art check out her website.

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