In this new series, Lipps sources iconic silhouettes from Richard Avedon’s 1990s campaign for Gianni Versace to frame and reanimate The Family of Man catalogue that accompanied the eponymous 1955 MoMA exhibition curated by Edward Steichen. Echoing the exhibition’s layout, the catalogue is filled with small boxed images proposing a universal narrative from creation to death arranged on white pages. With his signature cut outs, Lipps transforms this printed publication into theatrical tableaux employing collage strategies, sculptural devices, and dramatic staging. Studio lighting combines portrait and product photographic techniques to illuminate the dynamically posed bodies, lending a film noir aura to the surreal fashion photoshoot. The Body Wants to Live explores the contrast between the high fashion sensibility of Avedon’s silhouettes and the appropriated content of their interior photographs, often highlighting the wealth and racial disparities that are in especially sharp focus today.
Fashion photography has long influenced Lipps’s practice. Having come of age in the 90’s, he cites an early preoccupation with mass-distributed fashion magazines as both a creative and personal awakening: Pre“Worshipping those pictures as a closeted, queer kid, I fell in love with photography and found a safe way of relating to the world from a distance. While fashion images privilege style over substance, you cannot dismiss the substance at play and how highly manipulated and manipulative all photographs are. I learned at a tender age to police my own and others’ genders; I felt disdain for how I saw and held my body; I adopted unhealthy attitudes about wealth and whiteness; and, I bought all of it! This purchase is the stealth and seduction of photography. A photograph of war and a photograph of a model are both photographs. As photography grows exponentially more sophisticated than the lexicon used to prop up our understanding of its operation, we are perpetually reconfiguring ourselves and our relationships in an attempt to operate it.”
To Steichen, photography was uniquely suited for “giving form to ideas” and “explaining man to man”. The Family of Man catalogue described its function as mirroring “the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.” The United States Information Agency (1953-1999) produced five versions of the exhibition that toured the world for 8 years and were seen by over 9 million people. The enduring publication has sold over 4 million copies and has never been out of print. While receiving accolades for its innovative design and ambitious curatorial premise, it was also met with heavy criticism for papering over problems of race and class and for presenting a United States-centric view of the world. According to Lipps, “The USIA was a propaganda machine. It saw an opportunity in this exhibition to masquerade behind a sentimental humanist message in order to smuggle colonizing directives encoded in photographs to promote ‘American values’—patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and religiosity propagated by capitalism.” As, Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography "By purporting to show that individuals are born, work, laugh, and die everywhere in the same way, The Family of Man denies the determining weight of history - of genuine and historically embedded differences, injustices, and conflicts.”