Serialization, Ethnographic Drag, and the Ineffable Authenticity of Nikki S. Lee

Todd Richardson


This essay reads the photographer Nikki S Lee’s Projects, a series of pictures in which the artist poses as a member of various subcultures and folk groups from an ethnographic perspective. Focusing on how folklore scholars might employ Lee’s representational strategies, the essay suggests that two aspects of Projects are especially instructive for folkloristic ethnography. First, Lee’s use of drag as camp highlights the performative aspects of identity, showing how individuals express themselves both through and against shared expressive standards. Second, the serialized presentation of the photographs provides a model for the ethnographic representation of multiple folk identities performed by individuals who belong to a variety of folk groups. In these ways, Lee’s Projects can assist folklorists looking to represent the fugitive aspects of folk identity that resist or are resisted by folk processes, those individual aspects of folk performances which the folk and their folklore cannot efface.


folk groups; ethnography; photography; identity; authenticity; drag; camp

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