Fine Art Photography

Natalie Krick Plays with Fashion and Beauty Ideals in a New Book

February 23, 2018

By Conor Risch

There’s something familiar in Natalie Krick’s images from her series “Natural Deceptions.” It’s as if we’ve met her subjects—her mother, her sister, herself—somewhere before, but of course we haven’t. Then it hits us: It’s not that we know the women, it’s that we know the poses, the hair, the makeup, the looks, the image compositions. Krick is pulling from and reconstructing our visual culture of feminine beauty, feeding it back to us with a wink and a nod that suggests we’ve been had, and not necessarily by her.

Krick’s images draw on both fashion and celebrity pictures from previous generations up to the present day. They question how both men and women are influenced by imagery and how beauty ideals are passed from parents to children across generations. They also highlight the absurdity of the effort that goes into constructing our cultural ideals, and use humor as a way to urge viewers to consider how those ideals alter the way men look at women, and women view themselves.

Krick began the series in 2011, when she was pursuing her MFA at Columbia College Chicago, but it’s in the past few years that the images have struck a nerve, earning her an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship in 2015, and the Aperture Portfolio Prize last year. Krick showed the series this winter at Aperture Gallery in New York, and will exhibit it in April at Glass Box Gallery in Seattle. Chicago publisher Skylark Editions also recently published a book of the work.

© Natalie Krick

”Me posing as Mom posing as Marilyn,” is based on Marilyn Monroe’s famous spread in Playboy, which was published without the actress’s knowledge or permission. © Natalie Krick

Krick’s mother was her earliest model for “Natural Deceptions.” Krick would dress, style and pose her in ways that mimicked what she’d seen in fashion and celebrity images. “When I was first starting the project I was looking at a lot of magazines, and Googling every female celebrity that I could think of and dragging all of those images onto my desktop,” Krick recalls. “That’s when I first started to notice certain poses and tropes that are repeated over and over again.” In one image, “Me posing as Mom posing as Marilyn,” her mother lies on a bed, borrowing a pose from the famous nude picture of Marilyn Monroe that appeared (without Monroe’s knowledge or permission) in the first Playboy, launching Hugh Hefner’s career. Above her mother in the frame, Krick strikes the same pose. In another photograph, Krick’s mother reenacts a well-known image of Greta Garbo.

Guy Bourdin is also an important influence, Krick says. She’s “pretty obsessed” with the late French fashion photographer, “mostly because I feel very conflicted about his work. It’s really seductive and pleasurable to look at, but also there’s this implied violence in a lot of his images.” Krick goes back and forth between wondering if Bourdin’s work is subversive or if the implied violence is “glamorized and sexualized and really problematic.” Her image “Mom on her carpet” is a reference to Bourdin’s images of mannequin legs sawed off at the knee. In the photograph, Krick’s mother’s black, three-quarter-length tights blend into a black seamless background, making it appear her legs have been cut off mid-calf. In another image reminiscent of Bourdin, “Hands and houseplants,” three sets of hands with nails painted the same blue color frame a set created from plants with pink blossoms and animal print fabrics.

It was after graduating and moving to be near her mother in Colorado that Krick began isolating body parts, making collages and “trying to blend my identity with my mom’s identity, with my sister’s identity so maybe you’re not quite sure of who you’re really looking at.” The freedom from MFA deadlines and her switch from color film to a digital camera gave her “time to play,” she says. “I didn’t have to question everything right away; I could just work.” Her compositions grew more complex and layered. When she began the work, “A lot of what I was thinking about was trying to make glamorous and seductive images that weren’t just easy on the eyes,” Krick says. “I was thinking about how I could make people uncomfortable, and that’s one of the reasons why I was photographing my mom in certain ways.” As the work has evolved, she’s found ways to create images both in-camera and with Photoshop that “further confuse the way the picture was looked at, so it was confusing on multiple levels.”

© Natalie Krick

“Self-portrait as my mother’s mother.” © Natalie Krick

For her image “Faux thigh gap,” for instance, she stuck paper that matched a wood-paneled backdrop to her legs and hips to make them appear to be shaped differently. The obvious faking of the “perfect thigh gap” seen in magazine portraits, and the fact that we get the reference, emphasize the absurdity of the expectations and what it would take to meet them.

Not everyone has understood the humor, Krick says. “Mostly men have reacted to [the work] as if they’re really repulsed by the images. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. And it’s hard for me to respond to it. Even though it’s not about my family, it’s still personal.” Perhaps Krick’s commentary is a bit too cutting and spot on for some. But she wants humor to act as an entry point, and she’s unafraid to laugh at herself. Ann Friedman’s send-up of “it” girl artist profiles in Krick’s book is a case in point, referring to Krick as “the perfect art icon for the selfie generation.”

“I think a lot of the issues that I’m interested in can often be talked about in a very serious way and they are serious issues, but at the same time flawed bodies are beautiful and funny and interesting,” Krick says. The amount of effort that goes into creating ideal beauty is “totally ridiculous,” she adds. “But I also think it affects the way that men look at women, and that’s horrible.”

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