Lorna Simpson, May June July August ’57 / ’09, 2009. Gelatin silver prints, Twelve parts, each: 7 × 7 inches (17.8 × 17.8 cm). Promised gift of Beth and Richard Marcus. © Lorna Simpson
Since the mid-1980s, Lorna Simpson has examined the interplay between fact and fiction, and identity and history, in photographic works that often combine text and image. Using both found images and studio photography, Simpson undermines assumptions about race and gender within American culture, subjecting these ideas to insightful reexamination.
The twelve parts shown here are a selection of works from Simpson’s series, May June July August ’57/’09, a body of work that, according to the artist, “critiques photography but also the power of imagery, and also the power of race and sexuality.” Made of 123 pairs of photographs, the series brings together two kinds of images: found pin-up images of young Black women (whom the artist identifies as aspiring actresses or models) in Los Angeles from 1957 and the artist’s recreation of these images that she made in 2009. The juxtaposition of the original photographs with Simpson’s mirrored own blurs the lines between history and art, creating a fictionalized narrative within which the depicted characters take part. Key to Simpson is the artifice inherent to the performances in these photographic pairs, and how performing, or posing, for the camera requires playing to notions of identity and the expectation of being seen. Part archival exploration and part performance, May June July August ’57/’09 is a complex investigation of history, femininity, and race.