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Masha, Baldwin Hills, California
Courtesy of the artist, IDEA

Nadia Lee Cohen brings Women to life at Dover Street Market

The lesser-known films behind the photographer’s famed photo project are now on display, alongside flip books that animate the ‘lurid leftovers of Western consumerism’

The portraits in Nadia Lee Cohen’s 2020 monograph Women have always seemed like stills from a film, or snapshots from real life in motion; narrative spills out beyond the edge of the frame, as you follow the squinted gaze of a sun-sizzled holidaymaker, or the chrome barrel of a loaded gun. A lesser-know fact, though, is that many of the images in the photographer’s now-infamous debut were actually filmed, offering us real insight into these imagined realities.

From today (May 10), London-based fans will have a chance to watch these films for themselves at a standalone cinema in Dover Street Market London, built by Nadia and set designer Lyndon Ogbourne.

Shot in London, New York, and Los Angeles, the films – like the character-driven photographs before them – explore what Cohen calls the “lurid leftovers of Western consumerism”. Cinema, advertising, and shopping malls provide inspiration, resulting in a surreal take on the extremes of the urban environment.

“I didn’t film every set up but now I really wish I had,” Cohen explains, as the exhibition opens. “It was only when I saw the films as a collective that I realised other people might be interested in seeing them too.” The moving image, she adds, offers a level of insight and intimacy that stills can’t necessarily capture: “Mannerisms tell so much about a person’s character... the way we place our hands when we have nothing to hold can sometimes reveal more about us than when we open our mouths.”

Alongside the new films, Cohen is also expanding the Women series in a physical form, releasing a collection of flip books in collaboration with IDEA Books. Drawing on the influence of two flip books that she “treasured” as a child (Dumbo and Popeye, for the record), the publications put the animation process in the viewer’s hands, each containing two short film clips that play backwards and forwards. 

Distributed across three gold boxes, with three books per box, the collection essentially represents no less than 684 new Nadia Lee Cohen images, each page forming a frame in the broader story of the shoot. Take a look at some highlights in the gallery above.

Nadia Lee Cohen’s cinema installation runs at Dover Street Market London from May 10. Flip books are available exclusively at Dover Street Market London and online via IDEA.