Laurie Simmons: Photography

This week I’ll be looking at an artist who, like a lot of modern artists, uses photography to create her pieces. But Laurie Simmons’ photos are not in any way average. Her subjects are often strange, and honestly somewhat creepy (she frequently takes pictures of dolls and dummies), creating an unsettling atmosphere. But, above all, her work is extremely compelling and begs the viewer to look closer.

Simmons was born in Long Island in 1949 and later attended the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Growing up, her family sounds pretty conventional– her mom was a housewife and her dad was a dentist. But, the funny thing is that Simmons’ own children and husband are anything but normal. Her husband is Carroll Dunham, a painter, and her daughters are Grace and Lena. Yup, Lena Dunham is her daughter. If anyone has seen the movie “Tiny Furniture,” directed by and starring Lena, you’ve also seen Laurie Simmons, who naturally played the role of her mother. She honestly pretty much just plays herself, as she’s a successful and offbeat photographer in the movie. I just thought it would be interesting to put that little side note in before I really get started talking about Simmons’ work, because I found it awesome that two such influential women just happen to be mother and daughter!tiny-furniture-movie-780x320

“Tiny Furniture”, 2010

In her pieces, Simmons not only questions the role of women in our society, but that of the everyday American, too. Whether she is photographing dolls, live performers, or household objects, the artist examines the “struggle over identity in an environment in which the value placed on consumption, designer objects, and domestic space is inflated to absurd proportions.” The reason she so frequently uses dolls is because she sees them as almost the epitome of forced female gender roles, and she wants to explore how this may affect women in reality. She once claimed that the reason behind her and other women choosing photography was very deliberate– “I’m not going to say it was a radical act, but we were certainly doing it in some sort of defiance of, or reaction to, a male-dominated world of painting.”


The Love Doll, 2011

Here, Simmons photographs a life-sized doll from Japan. She shows its life over the span of several weeks, doing everyday (and some not so everyday) tasks.

Laurie Simmons Walking Cake II (Color), 1989 cibachrome print, edition of 10 64 x 46 inches (162,6 x 116,8 cm) 69 3/8 x 51 3/8 inches (176,2 x 130,5 cm) frame SW 05119

Walking Cake, II

Simmons also has a series of works featuring oversized objects supported by a pair of women’s legs. It is meant to question the way we sometimes pigeonhole women, associating them with certain, “traditionally feminine”, objects. I think this example is a particularly good representation of that idea.

The artist has achieved major success throughout her life, holding many solo exhibitions, receiving awards, and gaining national recognition. I think her work is fascinating, and I can see why it has captured the public’s interest.

The cool thing about modern artists is that you can see how their work is still evolving and what projects they are working on now. If you’re interested, here is a link to her instagram:




Kara Walker: Painting


At first glance, Kara Walker’s work look like an illustration from a quaint fairytale. It’s only upon further inspection that you realize that there is something horribly disturbing about the scenes she has portrayed so beautifully. As an African- American, female artist, Walker creates pieces that are laden with questions about race, sexuality, and American history.

Walker was born in Stockton, California in 1969, and quickly took a liking to art. Her father was a painter, and she initially stuck to the more conventional, “fine art” that has always been so popular. She attended college in Atlanta, earning a degree in fine art, and soon after obtained a masters degree from Rhode Island School of Design. At this point, Walker had experimented with different forms of media, and began displaying her now trademark style of large, black, paper silhouettes against a stark white background. Walker also remarked that the primary content of her pieces–“pictures that told stories of things—genre paintings, historical paintings”— was developed in her teenage years.


One of the artist’s first major exhibitions was in 1994 in New York City. Titled “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart,” Walker manages to convey the horrid realities of slavery in a single, elegant image. The piece really does tell a story– I feel like it can be read from left to right, your eyes first noticing the wealthy, Antebellum-era couple and then ending with the sweeping female slave.

Though the images may be disturbing, the message is incredibly important, and work to “simultaneously seduce and implicate the audience.” Critics and audiences alike recognized her clever approach to such dark parts of American history (and sadly our present, too), leading Walker to have many exhibitions across the United States and England. In 2007, TIME magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of the year. But, her popularity didn’t guarantee relief from criticism. Her work was boycotted by older black artists who believed her depictions of African Americans were offensive. Just recently, in 2012, one of her murals– in which a black slave is forced to engage in sexual activity with her presumed black master– was covered up in Newark Library in New Jersey. It has since been revealed again.


Confectionary, 2014

This is one of Walker’s more recent pieces. Still utilizing her recognizable style, she creates a narrative so depressing, but fascinating. As with her other works, the meaning is often clearly stated in the title. In this case, the title “Confectionary” is meant to be a wry, ironic glance into what goes into making the daily pleasures we consume every day. She examines this in a historical context, with black slaves harvesting sugar cane that will undoubtedly only be consumed by their white oppressors, but the idea can be applicable to current American life, too. It’s jarring to think that the shirt on someone’s back, labeled with a tag stating “MADE IN CAMBODIA”, was probably produced in terrible conditions, by people who are facing extreme injustices. The mild conveniences of one group are so often created by exploiting the unfortunate circumstances of others, which Walker realizes and epitomizes with her images of the pre-Civil War South.

I think one of the greatest compliments Kara Walker would like to hear about her work is that it inspires action, and I really think it has the power to do just that.



Barbara Kruger- Photography and Design


Though the name may not sound familiar, I’m sure many of us have seen one of Barbara Kruger’s pieces before. She was a huge component in the feminist art movement, and really helped people to question the standards of the day.

Born in suburban Newark, New Jersey in 1945, Kruger eventually went on to attend Syracuse University. After a year, she moved to New York to go to Parsons School of Design in order to challenge herself more. Like many of the other artists I have discussed, moving to the Big Apple greatly helped to propel Kruger’s career. Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely satisfied with this career path. She was a successful editor and designer for magazines before resigning, later saying “I basically wasn’t cut out for design work because I had difficulty in supplying someone else’s image of perfection.”

Kruger took a leap into the world of the visual arts. She crafted pieces using yarn and ribbons, and even had a solo exhibition. Ultimately, though, she didn’t feel proud of her artwork, and moved to California in 1976 to teach and paint at the University of Berkley. She examined poetry closely, and eventually began writing on her own. This interest in the written word would come to really influence her work, as she moved from painting to what she truly loved– photography and graphic design.

After working in the medium of photography for a bit, Kruger decided to use found photographs for her pieces in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, she used black and white images from popular culture and the media, overlaid with her own text. She criticized the (largely very conservative) political climate at the time, and took stances on issues like women’s rights and American consumerism.

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I really enjoy Kruger’s distinctive style– the black and white imagery juxtaposed by harsh red block of texts. Her work is not subtle. In using words, she is able to very clearly convey her meaning, and her art turns into more of a political statement. She employs first person and third person statements (using words like “I”, “you”, and “your”) that really draw the viewer in, and make them feel like less of a passive observer of her work, but a part of the issues she is discussing. Kruger was able to effectively protest these issues, and capture the attention of the public. Still today, her pieces are often recreated and sold on different items, like mugs and t-shirts, with her permission. This is interesting to me, because it seems to contrast with the message conveyed in “I shop therefore I am.” But, perhaps for Kruger, spreading her ideas was a main priority, despite the means it required. After all, she once claimed, “I’m trying to be affective, to suggest changes, and to resist what I feel are the tyrannies of social life on a certain level.”

The artist and activist is still very active today. She has dabbled into the world of sculpture, and her exhibitions have grown to be large-scale. Kruger alo writes frequently, and has had essays published in recent years. Her work has inspired very many people with its postmodern style, and her messages, whether about feminism, or the act of war, remain as poignant as ever.


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