Daily Picture Show

The End Of The World As We Know It, And It's A Small, Small World

Photographer Lori Nix excitedly asks me an unusual question over the phone: "Can you imagine what it would be like if you were the last person in D.C. and were able to wander around?" The tone in her voice is such that she could be asking: "Can you imagine winning the Mega Millions jackpot!?"

As it happens, I have, in fact, imagined such a scenario.

I'd wager, though, that most folks don't sit around thinking about being the last person left in D.C. Most people, I imagine, don't go to a shopping mall and wonder: What would this place look like if humanity disappeared and Mother Nature reclaimed that escalator?

Mall, 2010 i i

Mall, 2010 Lori Nix hide caption

itoggle caption Lori Nix
Mall, 2010

Mall, 2010

Lori Nix

Nix definitely thinks about those things. "I am fascinated, maybe even a little obsessed, with the idea of the apocalypse," she writes on her website.

Much of her wild imagining is done on a morning commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where she works as a self-described photo "lab rat" four days a week:

"Something about the subway," she writes via email, "the need to create my own space while rubbing shoulders with a complete stranger, the light that floods the subway car as it hurtles out of the tunnel and over the Manhattan Bridge: All of these come together to create the perfect environment for me to lose myself and come up with ideas to explore."

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Ideas like a library overrun with trees, a rusty, flooded control room, a "vacuum show room" imagined down to the faux advertisements on the wall. The concepts are morose and humorous, retro and futuristic, outlandish and somewhat believable all at once. She keeps a list of these scenarios and, if it passes the two-year test of likability, she'll create it.

It then takes months for Nix and her partner, Kathleen Gerber, to turn an imagined scene into a miniature diorama, which Nix then photographs using a large-format film camera.

"I'm largely known as a photographer," she writes, "although these days I feel more and more like a fabricator. ... I only step behind the camera [about] three times a year."

Nix studied photography at Ohio University but concluded that photojournalism and documentaries — even portraits and landscapes — were not for her. Those, in short, are based in reality.

"I don't see," she says on the phone. And elaborates:

"I'm usually more in my head than present in my surroundings, so I miss those magical shots like Winogrand ... Eggleston or Capa were able to capture. I'm not a people person, so shooting like Arbus or Nan Goldin is out. I'm also not much of a traveler. Ultimately what I like to do is stay home and create my own worlds rather than go in search of them."

This selection of post-apocalyptic photos has been in the works since 2005 — a series she calls The City. Though she doesn't seek commercial work, the dioramas have caught the eye of magazine editors like those at O magazine, who asked her to illustrate their Christmas issue.

A spread from O magazine i i

A spread from O magazine Lori Nix hide caption

itoggle caption Lori Nix
A spread from O magazine

A spread from O magazine

Lori Nix

Though each work is a meticulous, time-consuming, laborious work of art, she doesn't seem to get bored. Nix says she will continue with this series until she runs out of ideas. Or, perhaps, until the world ends.

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