Taiwanese model Ni Feiya looks like many of his contemporaries during the day. At night, however, he dresses up like a woman, wears make-up and performs as a drag queen. His “double life” defines his identity and social interactions. His portrait, which was taken at his house in Taiwan, is part of Chinese photographer Luo Yang’s latest series, “Youth”. Although there isn’t a “behind the scenes” story to each picture, Yang says she tends to photograph subjects who have interesting backgrounds, and whose images exude their complex and diverse stories. Yang spent most of 2019 photographing young people in Beijing, Shanghai , Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of China for “Youth”, which explores the region’s eclectic Generation Z. “I’ve been taking pictures of girls for more than a decade now, mainly of my own generation [those born in the 1980s] and I’ve been including a lot of my own reflections,” Luo says. “As my own life moves forward and I feel that part of the need to release my own emotions has been met, there’s an urge to do something new – and capturing the younger generation is a part of this because it’s a group of people that intrigues me.” Luo’s decade-long project “Girls” is emblematic of her career as one of China’s most prominent contemporary photographers. The series’ powerful and recognisable images – which focused on the evolving concept of womanhood – captivated global audiences and created the raw aesthetic that, along with its detail-oriented frames, define her work. Similarly, “Youth” looks at a generation that is as talked-about and embedded in the culture of sharing as it is mysterious. “I wanted to focus on young people today, mostly the generation born in the late ’90s,” Luo says. “The subjects of this series are not just girls, but also boys, transgenders … as fluidity is also one of the features of this generation, I think that ‘Youth’ is a good name for this group, not defined or categorised by gender.” A lot has changed in China since she graduated from the prestigious Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, in Shenyang, Liaoning province, where she was born in 1984. Her generation, shaped in part by the era of dramatic change under Deng Xiaoping, was not “as brave to express themselves and pursue their lives”, she says. Today, the relationship between private and public spaces – as well as the concepts of sexuality and identity – have completely changed. At the same time, while immersing herself in the Gen-Z universe, Luo noticed that “some emotions and traditions are hard to change … we all experience similar feelings at a certain age and face similar problems in life”. Seen from the outside, young Chinese are often associated with the growth of the country into a global powerhouse and the world’s biggest consumer market. Young Chinese people buy and consume more than most of their contemporaries elsewhere, and most international brands now work their campaigns and strategies around them . Beyond that, however, an aura of mystery surrounds them. While the Chinese diaspora is increasingly represented in pop culture, there is a lot to explore about this generation, beyond their economic value – and many stereotypes to break. “By diving deep into their [my subjects’] lives, I’m surprised by their creativity and their realisation of self-identity, and pursuit of their dreams,” Luo says. “This generation is self-centred, bold, and they are really trying to strike the balance between traditional Chinese culture and being more international.” Love, sexuality, body positivity and self-determination are only a few of the themes that emerge from Luo’s latest project, one filled with tales of “young adults already mature beyond their childish appearance, boys who defy the social codes with their disturbing fragility, and girls who proudly display their bodies”. In “Youth”, Luo tries to portray her young subjects objectively without elevating their lives or conveying a preconceived message. “I don’t like to define things too much, I simply want to present them with a more objective view. I hope the audience can see and feel the living people and their stories behind these works,” Luo says. “You can see from the pictures that young people today live very differently. You can simply feel their peculiar stories.” “Youth” is an Instagram dream of kaleidoscopic palettes, dreamy interiors and indie fashion . Much like its subjects, the series’ aesthetic is both anchored to and stands in contrast to mainstream culture. In a 2012 interview with the New Statesman , Chinese artist Ai Weiwei described Luo Yang as “one of the rising stars of Chinese photography”. In the years that followed, Luo continued to take pictures of her “Girls” and was included in the BBC’s list of 100 most influential women worldwide in 2018. In the artistic community and avant-garde pop culture circles, her work is seen as a symbol of a new wave of women photographers. In the near future, Luo hopes to bring her subjects to life, and continue to explore the role of femininity and womanhood in Chinese society, in a movie project. In the meantime, “Youth” is being exhibited in Europe – most recently in Berlin in Germany and with an upcoming exhibition in Arles, southern France – giving new, visually stunning perspectives on what it means to be a young adult in contemporary China.