Reporter 425, 19 October 1998

Gallery says hello to Norma Jean as it exhibits work of PhD art student

A photograph of Marilyn Monroe in New York was the starting point for a fine art PhD project currently being exhibited at the Leeds City Art Gallery. Nicky Bird chanced upon the photograph of the star being fitted for a theatrical costume and used it as the inspiration for a photographic installation which investigates the nature of myth and reality, fame and anonymity. Nicky’s work also features previously unpublished pictures of the star.

Nicky was the first PhD student in Fine Art to complete a studio practice PhD, and also the first to be funded by a Burton scholarship, named after Stanley Burton, whose family are great supporters of fine art and music.

In 1955 the American photographer Ed Feinger was commissioned to follow Monroe for a week. The New York location has since been demolished, but Nicky tracked down the results, which had not been seen since then to an archive in California.

“Looking at the photo I became interested in the peripheral figures in the doorway,” she said. “The three looking at her reflection in the mirror. They are not the focus of the photograph, but are somehow caught up in the main event. This gives them a completely different sort of meaning and this is something I wanted to explore in my work.”

The exhibition features large black and white photographs which deal with a particular section of the original image. Elements from the photograph are also recreated with props.“I hope my work gives people a sense of entering a fitting room like that in the photograph,” she continued, “and to shift people’s attention away from the star to the group of anonymous women.” The exhibition runs until November 8. An artist’s book, Red Herrings, featuring stages of the project is also available from the Gallery.

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