Living in the 21st century, our world is brimming with images and contemporary art, and our notion of beauty is more or less dominated by a dazzling business called fashion photography. With top international fashion magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle vigorously developing their Chinese versions in recent years, there emerged a group of Chinese fashion designers and photographers who brought their distinctive Chinese aesthetics to the fashion world.
There’s a much-told story in the fashion world of how China’s first supermodel Lu Yan and fashion photographer Feng Hai set off each other’s career with the iconic ‘lilies and girl with freckles’ photo. Hai was the person who discovered Yan’s beauty. He is also the regular photographer of the internationally famous Chinese actress Gong Li. Apart from his fashion career, Feng Hai also explored the art world with his experimental projects like Peony Pavilion, inspired by the Kunqu Opera with the same name, and Mask, a black and white photography project that reminds viewers of the ancient Greek civilization.
Some hail her as “China’s Annie Leibovitz,” while others say she’s “China’s Mika Ninagawa,” but photographer Chen Man is increasingly gaining a foothold in the fashion world as just herself. The 36-year-old Beijing native is China’s most popular fashion photographer. People she photographs range from the top-notch Chinese celebrities to China’s ethnic minorities. Her works usually combine modern fashion and traditional Chinese elements, and involve heavy use of post-production techniques. Man recently said in a New York Times interview that her interest in people has existed since she was a 3-year-old: “I was always painting. I always stared at people.”
Yin Chao studied Automotive Engineering at university, but his talent in art made him unstoppable in the fashion world. He’s the regular photographer for Chinese celebrities like Chen Kun and Wu Xiubo. Compared with other fashion photographers, Chao specializes in shooting movie posters, and has created posters for films like Chen Kaige’s The Promise (2005), Wang Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013), and Peter Chan’s Dearest (2014). Chao was recently into the Chinese tea culture and Zen, and hopefully we can see more of his works to come with his new interest blended in.
Having studied in the UK for seven years, Xu Chuang is the representative of Chinese fashion photographers from whose works you may see the influence of both oriental and western cultures. Chuang is more recognized for his rendering of men than women. Though he’s in the fashion photography business, he said his dream was to become a Magnum documentary photographer – and his dream was sort of realized by documenting actress Yao Chen, the first UNHCR National Goodwill Ambassador from China, in her trips to refugee camps.
It’s easy to tell Sun Jun’s works from others – his works are usually characterized by elements from the traditional Chinese paintings. But if you think it’s easy to recreate his works with Photoshop, you are being too optimistic. Having begun to learn Chinese painting since the age of 7 and graduated from the China Academy of Art, Jun already has the knowledge of Chinese art deeply rooted in his blood.
Though relatively inexperienced compared with some of the other photographers noted here, Bao Yanzhou is recognizable by a distinct Japanese style in his fashion photography. Yanzhou studied photography for four years in Tokyo, and is now based in Shanghai. Before going to Japan, he worked as a photo retoucher for Chen Man’s studio.