China’s Leading Fashion Photographer Selects Favorite Images From Her Own Archives
From influential singer Faye Wong horse-riding through a neon-pink field for Harper’s Bazaar to Dolce & Gabbana playing mahjong with actor Gao Yixiang for Men's Uno, celebrated photographer Chen Man curates a selection of personal picks from her archives. A 2005 graduate of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, Man was introduced to the fashion industry by make-up artist Li Dong Tian and quickly made a name for herself through vibrant imagery and a self-confessed excessive use of post-production. She went on to create a groundbreaking series of covers for avant-garde Chinese lifestyle magazine Vision, and her portfolio now includes editorials for Vogue China, Elle and i-D, as well as portraits of celebrities like actress Shu Qi and internationally renowned model Du Juan. Inspired by and passionate about her homeland, Man's work often features the nation’s modern citycapes and historical buildings as a backdrop to references from street culture, animation, sci-fi and pop sources. “My work is always a hybrid mix,“ she explains. “It is East and West; mainstream and alternative; of the present and the future; tacky meets elegant. It features ancient Chinese culture as its software, and Western contemporary culture as its hardware.” Man has exhibited in international institutions including the V&A Museum in London, MOCA Shanghai and Today Art Museum in Beijing. Here the illustrious camerawoman discusses her revolutionary approach.
What were your early inspirations?
Everything in the universe has an impact. If I had to choose one person, it would be Michael Jackson.
How would you describe your work now?
It’s an adventure to define the expression of contemporary Chinese fashion. It has led to a brand new style, starting with the series where model Lü Yan was shot on the top of the Great Wall of China, as well as the “Long Live Motherland China“ series. I am now focusing on the visualization of traditional Chinese culture. ‘Chinese essence, Western method’ is my working motto.
What do you look for in a subject?
Everyone is a muse. I like fat females. Chinese values are my essence, while I fully embrace the western methodology. My soul is influenced by the East, my body by the West. Chinese women are very powerful, yet subtle. So is China.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
Photography demands human contact. I like interacting with real-life beauty. Photography can be used to document reality, but is also able to express super-reality.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
For some time, I was repulsed by the term ‘artist’. It was when art started to become a phenomenon and a lot of young people resorted to performance art, which was bizarre and embarrassing for the public. When I first started shooting for Vision, artists didn't take me seriously as my work was published in fashion magazines. Having been invited to show at Today Gallery in Beijing and MOCA Shanghai, now I am considered an ‘artist’.
What has been the most exciting development in Chinese fashion?
People are starting to face up to the truthful representation of themselves, as well as the surreal ones.
Where do you see the future of fashion photography?
It's all about androgyny.
If you weren't a photographer, what would you be doing now?
A doctor who practices Chinese medicine.