Fatima Khan: How often do you give in to obsession? 

Nadia Lee Cohen: Quite a lot. It could be a food I’ve discovered and won’t stop eating until I’m sick of it. Or an idea that I obsess over and can’t rest until it’s physically in existence. Or those Chaz Dean billboards around LA. In terms of “vices”—I have many, but perhaps the one that might get me into trouble is feeling entertained by drama or theatrics when I probably shouldn’t be. I saw Kanye West punch a man in the face at Chateau Marmont the other night. That was one of them.

FK: What’s your relationship with Enrique Metinides’s work, and what initially drew you to him?

NLC: I was on a deep dive in crime scene photography in college. For the most part the genre is shot in black and white, is highly analytical and quite disturbing. I found Metinides’s work and wasn’t troubled by it. Even though the subject matter was, of course, tragic, the photographs were staged and lit in such a way that I felt as though I was looking at a constructed film still as opposed to a documentary image. I read that he loved Hollywood gangster films and snuck off to the movies to watch them as a child. I imagine this cinematic influence affected his view on devastation and death and enabled him to look on such real life scenes objectively, sometimes even comedically, almost as though he was existing in the films he was drawn to. I heavily relate to that and tend to approach tragedy as fiction—hence the “vices” I mentioned.

FK: I’m curious to know your definition of the femme fatale. How do you see that archetype evolving over the next handful of years?

NLC: I feel like Lou Reed and Nico already covered this with The Velvet Underground. I don’t think my definition could be better described than theirs. I think a person being aware of their “essence” is inherent and permanent if it’s a trait they naturally possess. I do think it is something you are born with. I’m not sure it is something you can acquire, so I feel any “evolution” won’t necessarily be too drastic. It would need a new name if it was no longer the archetype.

FK: I’d like to know your favourite example of film noir. How has the spirit of the genre found its way into your work?

NLC: I can’t pick only one. It’s too hard, but for the sake of this interview I’ll say The Long Goodbye (1973). I love that it had a massive influence on The Big Lebowski (1998). It delves into kind of the same thing I was describing earlier about drama. Taking pessimism, fatalism and menace and putting a spotlight on it so it becomes easier to digest as a slice of life. Cinema tends to aid the way we deal with tragedy in our own lives. I talk with my friends about this in terms of relationships as we share the problem of creating a “movie character” of whoever we’re romantically invested in, which, to be honest, just ends up with us justifying bad behaviour as a charming characteristic, rather than just someone generally being a shitty person.

Japanese poster for The Long Goodbye (1973). By Robert Altman. Courtesy of Posteritati.

FK: You often become different characters in your self portraits. What is it about taking on those brief transformations that scratches an itch for you? Do you ever take the characters with you after the image is taken?

NLC: I imagine it’s a similar feeling to that of an actor. Like why just be one version of yourself when you can have variety? I don’t know if I “take them with me” but, in the least pretentious way I can explain it, I feel like they were there to begin with. We’re all Frankensteins of the things we’ve seen or are interested in. Whether we physically dress up as them or not shouldn’t really make too much of a difference.

FK: How has cinema influenced the way you see the world, especially through a lens?

NLC: An appreciation of film, photography and art generally alters the perception of a person’s surroundings. For me, it assists in finding comedy in day-to-day life. It can make a crap or boring situation incredibly funny and entertaining. This has heightened my experience of living in Los Angeles for sure, but it’s definitely not limited to here. In the UK, it would be things like the cast of characters that pop in and out of the local newsagent or someone whizzing through the frame on a mobility scooter. In Paris, it’s a frowning old man walking along with a baguette in one hand, cigar in the other. I guess it just makes the world a little more fun. The more you see and understand film, the more you can dramatise the world that is moving around you.

In the UK, [inspiration] would be things like the cast of characters that pop in and out of the local newsagent or someone whizzing through the frame on a mobility scooter. In Paris, it’s a frowning old man walking along with a baguette in one hand, cigar in the other. I guess it just makes the world a little more fun.

Nadia Lee Cohen

FK: Can you tell us about a formative experience you’ve had at the cinema?

NLC: I remember driving down Beverly Boulevard one morning on the phone to my mum. She was telling me about this film she’d heard someone talking about on Radio 4 but she couldn’t remember the title, which was annoying the two of us. We were trying to work it out for about 20 minutes with the only clue being “Robert De Niro was in it”. I stopped at a traffic light in front of Tarantino’s cinema [The New Beverly] and saw De Niro looking back at me from a poster on the side of the building and HEAT in big letters on the marquee sign on top of the building. I asked “was it Heat?” and she replied “Yes”. It is probably the most serendipitous thing that’s ever happened to me. So I went and watched it that night.

Sonder. By Nadia Lee Cohen for A Rabbit’s Foot. Los Angeles, 2024. Nadia Lee Cohen is wearing CHANEL Fine Jewellery. The image is a remake of Enrique Metinendes’s 1979 image of Adela Legarreta Rivas, a Mexican journalist who was killed on her way to a press conference.

FK: Can we discuss your next steps into directing film? What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

NLC: Sonder wasn’t initially supposed to be a film and really came about by fate or accident. I met Charles [Finch] at the Beverly Hills Hotel for breakfast around the time of the Oscars. We sat speaking about me photographing this issue, which he explained had a lot to do with film noir, crime, villains, etc. Somehow we got onto Weegee, and I showed him my favourite photograph by Enrique Metinides [see page 44- 45] (often described as the Mexican Weegee) in which a beautiful woman elegantly dangles between a concrete block and two street poles having just been struck dead by a white Datsun in Mexico City, 1979. I have always loved this photograph and wondered what happened before the incident: the only information being that “Adela Legarreta was on her way to a press conference having just had her hair and nails done at the beauty parlour”. So that was how the film was born, I wanted to explore what I imagined happened around the accident and outside of the ’frame’. A three-minute lead up. A slice of life before catastrophe.

FK: Who is the greatest villain of all time and why?

NLC: In fiction: Jack Torrance, for his perfect blend of smile and death stare. In real life: Phil Spector, for his impressive array of court wigs.

FK: In a film sense, do you identify with a villain or a victim?

FK: What do you think?

Nadia Lee Cohen is the cover star of Issue 8 of A Rabbit’s Foot.