Natalie Krick’s mother has put Skittles under her shirt to emulate erect nipples, worn wigs, and slathered her face in garish makeup, all for the sake of her daughter’s art. Throughout the mother-and-daughter duo’s two-year project, which involves the 27-year-old snapping photos of her 55-year-old mother “performing sexuality,” their identities have started to blur together. “It becomes this weird hybrid of my identity and hers,” Krick says. “The more I shoot, there’s this question of, ‘Is this who I am going to be when I grow up? Am I going to turn into this woman?’”
Krick, who shoots with a Pentax 67 medium-format camera, calls the series “Natural Deceptions.” She sees her mom as defying the social constructs of age, sexiness, and beauty by adopting overtly sensual poses usually reserved for starlets, teenagers, and Krick’s own peers. Using wigs, makeup, nail polishes, and costumes to get her mom into character, Krick produces raw, jarring portraits with a bright, harsh flash.
“I’m not interested in beauty that is simply easy on the eyes,” Krick explains. “It’s disturbing how American audiences are shocked and made uncomfortable by bodies, especially female bodies, that veer outside the sliver of acceptable beauty. I’m more interested in a kind of beauty that is artificial, flawed, threatening, psychological, seductive, garish, and bites back.” The Cut spoke to the photographer over the phone about her relationship with her mother, her thoughts on female sexuality, and her understanding of people performing roles to fit into society. Click through the slideshow to see more of her work.
When did you first get interested in photographing women?
I did my undergrad at the School of Visual Arts in New York and I was primarily shooting acquaintances, friends, and other people I had met in New York City. I was really interested in how people presented themselves and how people dressed. Then I read this article in Bust magazine about faux drag queens, or women who dress like drag queens and perform, and there were pictures of these women who are over-exaggeratedly feminine but still look like men. I thought that was so interesting, so I started styling my subjects in a way that was kind of drag-esque. That’s what I was doing when I went to grad school at Columbia College in Chicago.
What made you start shooting only your mom?
At first I was photographing women I had met off the Internet, off of Craiglist and Model Mayhem. But then I photographed my mom for a series and then it just became about our relationship.
What was the first photo you took of her for this project?
It isn’t on my website, but I dressed her up as myself. She came to visit me in Chicago and I wanted to take a picture of her, so I dressed her in my clothes, put her in a wig that looked like my hair, and photographed her in my bedroom. She became this strange hybrid of my identity and hers. Also, the way that I present myself is sometimes exaggeratedly feminine because I wear a lot of makeup, so I was interested in that. Youth and aging are themes in the project, too. A lot of the pictures that I reference are of younger women, so I think there’s this interesting thing that happens when my mom, who’s 55, is performing these roles.
Is it odd for you to shoot your mother as a sexual being?
I’m interested in the way that the female body is sexualized. The poses that we see in culture are repeated over and over again, and they’re so common. But then having my mom perform them for me — I think it kind of emphasizes this aspect of performance. What does it mean that my mom is performing these sexualized poses for me? I think that’s an interesting question to ask. [Laughs.] I don’t think I necessarily have the answer to it.
Was your mom eager to be part of this?
It just worked out the first time so I just keep using her. She’s definitely willing, but it’s not necessarily her favorite thing to do. She does it for me. But I think, I think there is this thing that happens when anybody is photographed. You see yourself in a different light. And the way that I photograph her often, she looks so different anyway that she’ll look at the photo and go, “Oh, is that me?”
How have people been responding to your photos?
There’s this Skittles photo that look like she has erect nipples … I mean, it’s funny. We both thought it was hilarious. I remember showing this photograph in grad school at one of my reviews and one of the men in the room was like, “This is not funny. She should be embarrassed that her headlights are on.” I think a lot of the time, people view my work as a critique against my mom. I think that some of the pictures make them uncomfortable — like, this is an older woman being sexualized. I think it’s really powerful but can also make people uneasy and sometimes they lash out.
How has your relationship with your mom evolved through this project?
Working with my mom has brought us closer and she understands my motivation for making the pictures. Growing up, I learned to construct my appearance from images I saw of women in popular culture and from my mother’s performance of femininity. I’m trying to play with that idea in the images where I photograph her dressed as me or styled after specific images of celebrities. I’m interested in how women are sexualized in imagery and how they are posed and styled to appear sexual. The cliché ways that women are shown in images in magazines and on the Internet influence how we perceive our own sexuality. In a way, these tropes can be completely meaningless or loaded depending on the context.
You said you were initially inspired by women dressed as drag queens and excess, but the more recent photos of your mom are more delicate, less exaggerated.
When I first started photographing my mom I wanted to comment on cultural standards of beauty. I was afraid of making work that was personal, and that was one of the reasons that she is so heavily disguised in the earlier images. But of course the pictures are personal! I think the newer pictures are just as deceptive as the older ones. It doesn’t matter if she is wearing a wig and heavy makeup or a naked face — they are all pictures of her performing. All of the pictures intertwine the texture of reality with deception.