Nadia Lee Cohen’s latest book is a one-woman show

For Hello My Name Is, the LA-based imagemaker posed as 33 fictitious characters, whose portraits are accompanied by imagined quotes and possessions

Diane by Nadia Lee Cohen
Diane; All images from Hello My Name Is by Nadia Lee Cohen

Known her surreal photographs imbued with nods to cinema and Americana, the award-winning imagemaker Nadia Lee Cohen has made costume and performance a key tenet of her practice, placing her among a cross-section of artists who create characters in their work, including Cindy Sherman, Samuel Fosso and Alex Prager.

Hot on the heels of her debut monograph, Women, is her latest book, titled Hello My Name Is, which is now on its second print run after the first quickly sold out at the end of last year. This time, the photographer has a new pool of characters – but it’s exclusively a one-woman show as Cohen sits in for each portrait.

In Hello My Name Is, the British-born, LA-based imagemaker is absorbed into 33 different characters, who were inspired by name tags she had collected from markets and thrift stores. Like real sitters in a photography studio, the portraits all feature the same peachy studio backdrop and three-quarter angle poses, except for the stubborn, manspreading Bill, who presumably resisted the photographer’s directions.

Speaking of how she captures personas in her work, the imagemaker told CR last year: “The characters are melodramatic, maybe even camp. They are theatrical and with that come many forms of emotion, which are entirely subjective. I am not endeavouring to inflict specific emotions on the viewer but am grateful if any are stirred.

“In terms of self-portraiture, I am also referring to the same concept as above, it’s characterisation, though perhaps those are even more personal as I’m actually living inside the character rather than observing.”

Each portrait is accompanied by a still-life featuring the character’s imagined personal ephemera, plus a short quote crafted in their voice by Idea co-founder David Owen, which together create playful vignettes. There’s Michael, the Playboy-reading sports obsessive who has the distant pout of Donnie Darko. Tina with her bouffant hair and chewed black nails, or Diane, the ear piercing specialist described as the “most Nadia-like of the transformations”.

“Nadia has taken the great American optimism of the 1960s and 1970s and, with a heap of props and a well of nostalgia and genuine affection, populated her studio with characters of that time,” Martin Parr said of the project. “Her transformation transforms them; they are all her and she is all of them.”

Cohen is unafraid to dial up the stereotypes. The artificiality of each persona is illuminated by the glare of the studio lighting, which literally bounces off the exaggerated prosthetics, brought to life by special effects make-up artist Malina Stearns.

However, for all its comedy value, the body of work is surprisingly attuned to the human condition, particularly when we see how an individual’s poses, possessions, outfits, and statements are sometimes at odds with one another. The bravado, composure or steely confidence that these characters project is easily betrayed by the smallest nuances in body language – or the book of sex tips and bottles of hair dye they thought had been stashed out of sight.

Portrait of Michael by Nadia Lee Cohen
Mrs Fisher character by Nadia Lee Cohen
Mrs. Fisher

Hello My Name Is by Nadia Lee Cohen is published by Idea Books;