Lorna Simpson May, June, July, August '57/'09 #8 2009

  • Not on view

Lorna Simpson describes 1957-2009 as “a project that happened kind of by accident.” Since she often works with vintage photographs, advertisements, and magazines, she was on eBay in search of material, when she came across a couple of black-and-white photographs of a young black woman posing alluringly. As it turned out, these were part of a much larger album of photographs, featuring this woman, and, occasionally, a young black man, in attractively staged poses. The sellers offered the entire album to Simpson. Struck by the images, though not yet sure what to do with them, she bought it.

When the album arrived, she hung the photographs in her studio, where they remained for months. Taken in 1957, in modest domestic and outdoor settings, most of them appeared to be inspired by the pin-up, mass-produced images of seductively posed actresses and models, widely circulated in the 1940s and 50s. But the identities of the photographer, the woman, and the man were unknown. Ultimately, Simpson decided to restage these images. Using herself as her model, she mimicked the settings, clothing, hairstyles, and poses of both the woman and the man and photographed herself using black-and-white film. She then paired her own photographs with the originals (for a total of 307 individually framed images) and has displayed them together in various arrangements.

As with much of her work, it is up to viewers to draw their own conclusions about the identities of the subjects of 1957-2009. A feminist and an African American woman, Simpson has been concerned with black female identity since the beginning of her career. By providing little or no information about the people who appear in her images, she poses challenging questions about how we perceive and make assumptions about others based upon their appearance—and upon stereotypes associated with aspects of identity like skin color, hair, gender, and clothing.

Twelve gelatin silver prints
Each 5 × 5" (12.7 × 12.7 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art
Object number
© 2023 Lorna Simpson

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