Social media has created an environment that allows us to present whoever we want to be to the world, whilst bombarding us with the “perfect” lives of others. May Lin Le Goff, a photographer and collage artist living in New York, explores the construction of this projected identity through her work. Her brightly coloured images and minimalistic collages explore taboo subjects in a tongue-in-cheek way, creating hyperreal fiction that explores implied drug use, periods and the double-edged sword of female empowerment. Even the use of collage and the act of photographing a subject, cutting it up and refashioning it into something new, lends itself to the construction of identity she explores in her work. We catch up with May Lin to discuss inspiration, identity and sexualization.
What drew you to use collage in your work?
In 2010, I moved to NYC from Singapore to do my BFA in Photography at the School of Visual Arts. At SVA we learnt photo history and studied art, and that’s when I started to get into Dada and Surrealism. I took cues and techniques from amazing artists from those eras and started to incorporate mixed media into my images. It was also a real reflection of my life at that point: moving to NYC from Singapore really opened my eyes to possibilities in self expression and being able to explore personal identity without fear of judgement. You can be anything you want to be. It occurred to me me then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an artist and taken seriously. By correlation, the work was initially extremely colorful and unbridled, using fashion and beauty images that I’d shot as base.
I got really intrigued by paper collage, getting materials from magazines, cutting and pasting them into my images. Eventually I figured out that what I enjoyed the most was layering minimalistic shapes with colored construction papers and color blocking. I love the process of cutting and pasting, of the analog as well as trial and error and making beautiful mistakes. I enjoy being in the studio alone with myself making the cuts, with music playing in the background, at usually some unearthly hour. It’s meditate and that’s when the most magic happens.
I love California Dreaming (top image) and Fresh is better (below). Is your work a rejection of to the pressure women face to be perfect?
Thank you. I like women to be a lot more rebellious. So in many ways, yes the work is a rejection to the pressure women face to be perfect but it isn’t necessarily only about that. It’s about bringing humor into things that are considered taboo, things like periods and implied drug use.
Can you describe the Le Goff woman?
She is is a confabulator, spontaneous, flawed with enough self awareness to keep herself in check.
If you could photograph anyone, who would it be?
If I had a choice, it would be Bowie but that’s sadly no longer possible. I’d love to photograph Solange, she is phenomenal in every sense of the word.
What’s your current inspiration?
Color, composition and humor – vignettes of life I witness.
It’s a bit hard for me to pinpoint exactly what my current inspirations are, but I will say that the proliferation of images that are available now via media and social media and the challenges of keeping track of the original artist. Once an image goes viral, it takes a life of its own and authorship inevitably gets erased. It happened to me with California Dreaming, which became a meme.
In our contemporary culture, I find that a lot of people portray themselves in a one-dimensional, exhibitionistic manner; an alternate reality is created through a series of filters put in place by the subject. As the viewer, we live in vicariously through these vignettes. We as human beings see ourselves as highly evolved sentient entities, yet there is this prevailing herd mentality that is highlighted through our behaviour and observed through social media.
I’m trying to describe these observations in a photo book. I’ve been working on it with good stylist friend Stefany Mohebban, and we pull images from everywhere. Initially we were very drawn to the humorous images of Toilet Paper Magazine and tried to riff off that but now we’re finding out own way with it.
Any artists that inspire your work?
I’ve really been inspired by Henri Mattisse, Rene Magritte, Helen Hoch, Salvador Dali, and in the more contemporary world: Mickalene Thomas, Gilbery and George, Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, Vivianne Sassen – the list is never ending! There’s so much amazing art out there and I learn different things from artists that inspire me.
Your series Stripped is about a statement about the sexualization of the female body. How do you feel about nudity?
My feelings about nudity is that it is natural and wonderful. However, my issue is that we currently live within a sociocultural construct that sexually objectifies the female body, and equates a woman’s worth with her physical appearance and sexual function. In some twisted, fucked up way, today women’s sexual objectification is celebrated as a form of female empowerment, where women are encouraged to object themselves.
This goes back to your previous question about the pressure women face to be perfect. What is the price for perfection, and more importantly, who defines what perfection is? For most women, the answer is most definitely mainstream and social media. We’re constantly barraged by images of this so-called ideal way for women to look. The portrayal seems very imbalanced to me, especially in the Us. Men are viewed as subjects, where as women are viewed as objects.
Personally, I find nudity powerful and beautiful but it just depends on whether you’re being empowered or objectified – there’s a very fine line.