Interview by Danny Jauregui
“Women are more interesting to me because
—Simone Lueck I’m drawn to glamour, decadence and beauty.” — Simone Lueck
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Simone is a contemporary photographer whose work plays with fantasy, glamour, and possibility in the shadow of Hollywood’s bygone icons. For her projects, which include The Wizard of Oz, Cleopatra, Glamour Girls, The Once and Future Queens, and American Movie, Simone posts ads on Craigslist for amateur models. Formerly a resident of LA, Simone recently relocated to Brooklyn. Website.
Danny Jauregui is an LA-based artist who works in mixed media and is represented by Leslie Tonkonow Gallery in New York. Website.
A director and actor who pioneered American independent film and the cinéma vérité style of moviemaking. His acting credits include classics such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
There is a middle ground between our fantasy of fame and life as it exists, one that is strange and lonesome but full of possibility. Simone Lueck’s photographs populate this space. For many of her projects, Simone posts Craigslist casting calls asking women to embody a certain role. Without the help of professional makeup, lighting or production, these women arrive as their own private and very human versions of fantasy, and Simone photographs.
Simone’s upcoming show, American Movie, was born from her last project, The Once and Future Queens, for which she posted an ad seeking older women to pose as glamorous movie stars in their own homes, with their own clothing, makeup and poses. Struck by the gap between women who yearn for fame and those who make it, Simone imagined up a project where she would offer them a “real” moment of opportunity and let dreams fill in the rest.
Fellow artist and friend Danny Jauregui talks to Simone about femininity, John Cassavetes, and the seedy side of LA. American Movie opens at Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles, from January 10 – February 21.
Danny Jauregui: Where are you from?
Simone Lueck: St. Paul, Minnesota.
DJ: How did you get started?
SL: I took a photo class when I was a senior in high school, and I instantly fell in love with photography. My dad gave me his Minolta X700 SLR and I carried it with me all around. I’ve always loved making pictures. The art-making part came much later, though, when I was in the MFA program at UCSD.
DJ: Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
SL: Growing up I was influenced by my grandmother. She was a potter and an artist, and very independent. She was really funny and fun to hang out with. I didn’t realize it then that she had such a big influence, but she did, and still does.
Lately I have enjoyed spending time with my retired grad school teacher in New York, Steve Fagin. He is also very funny and has introduced me to a lot of new cultural stuff, including theater, and that has been really great.
DJ: How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
SL: After grad school I moved to Los Angeles, where I became fascinated with the idea of faded glamour that I think is really prevalent here. I did a project photographing older women posing as glamorous movie stars – The Once and Future Queens. Ever since then I have been stubbornly and obsessively making new work.
DJ: Where does your interest in female amateur actors come from?
SL: For me there’s two parts there. There’s the part about being female and then there’s the part about being an actor.
“I became fascinated with
the idea of faded glamour that
I think is really prevalent here.”
— Simone Lueck
DJ: I’m more interested in the female part actually. So let’s focus on that.
SL: Well women are more interesting to me because I’m drawn to glamour, decadence and beauty.
DJ: So those are more easily represented in femininity, you think?
SL: I think that women have been working at being glamorous for a lot longer than men have. And I think that in the movies the most alluring aspect is the woman for both men and women viewers.
DJ: Where does that interest come from? Have you always watched movies or where did you come to the notion of the female actor. What’s the root of that? I remember you always watching 1950s, 60s movies.
SL: Yeah I’ve always watched movies. For some reason movies have been my favorite things forever. I do have a story actually. So I was really not allowed to watch TV at home growing up and the only thing I was allowed to watch was “Murder She Wrote,” because it came on after “60 minutes.” And I still do love “Murder She Wrote.” It’s fabulous. But in the 10th grade I got really sick, so I was sick and I was at home from school and my mom let me watch TV and it was such a big deal. I found Bravo and there was a John Cassevettes movie marathon on. There was a movie called “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” and it was a world that was new and I had never dreamed of – it was sexy in a dirty way; this world of Cosmo and Ben Gazarra and his nightclub was so cool. It really blew me away. And the dark, seedy side of LA really stayed with me from this movie.
DJ: That’s interesting because his movies always have a central female character.
SL: He has strong female characters and he’s also interested in women and aging. And he’s interested in women that keep trying; and no matter what it looks like to others, that it’s better to try and fail than to not try.
DJ: Is there an aspect of that trying in your new work of casting calls? Because in the casting calls in a way it’s like them trying. Tell us about the casting calls.
SL: I came to the idea unconsciously in my last series, The Once and Future Queens – you remember you helped me edit the submissions. I had so many, and I really had trouble choosing who to photograph, and I thought, wow there are so many people that want to participate and I can’t work with everybody. The idea that there would be so many people that want to be famous than that actually get the chance. Like even to be in an arty photo project. So I thought it would be a logical next step to look at the whole process of making pictures. You know, starting with the casting call – a performative gray area in between actual life and fantasy. It’s fascinating that people perform that fantasy role not knowing if they’re gonna get the part.
DJ: It’s almost in a way like they’re doing their best. They’re performing their heart out because they’re trying to get the role.
SL: Yes. And it’s a way of documenting the creativity and talent that exists. Really these are straight documents of each person’s interpretation of the role. I think it’s nice to see that.
DJ: So you see these as straight documentary photographs?
SL: Yes, because these are documents of each person’s performance. And it’s also a non-performance, too.
DJ: Well it’s a performance that never gets shown. Never public.
SL: It’s ambiguous in that way.
“I ask them to look
at the camera and that’s it,
the performance is in the face only.”
— Simone Lueck
DJ: In a previous conversation you were talking about the casting call as a space with limitations. Was it the limitation to the performance that was interesting to you?
SL: Because of the way I photographed the pictures are head-shots, so people don’t have any space literally to move around in. And I ask them to look at the camera and that’s it, the performance is in the face only.
DJ: Switching gears, you recently moved to New York and I’m wondering if that’s changed your work?
SL: Working in New York has been challenging in a good way – this new project is really about Los Angeles, but I produced about half of it outside of LA. It is easy to take LA for granted – it is a really easy place for me to make work because there are so many talented people there to photograph. Working in Kansas and Berlin, for example I have had to improvise more and make things up as I go along. This has been a pleasant surprise for me because I trust my instincts now more than ever before and I have more confidence in my work.
DJ: What’s your favorite album / book / artist / film right now?
SL: Album – Caribou, “Our Love.” Royksopp & Robyn “Do It again.”
Book – “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin, “Winnie the Pooh” by A. A. Milne.
Film – “United 93” and Swedish detective shows: “The Bridge” and “Wallander.”
DJ: What are your interests and passions outside of art?
SL: I like riding my bike. I like playing with my cats. I love to play ping-pong. I like watching movies and good TV shows. I love to be reading a good book.
DJ: What’s next?
SL: In this project I did a lot of things that were new for me, including making videos and animations. It was a long and challenging process and I am happy to move forward. Next I plan to do a book project. I am bigger than a book, and I would feel more confident about winning if it challenges me to an arm wrestle or thumb war.