Five fresh new China fashion photographers to watch, from quirky to surreal to sublime
Fashion photography in China has been dominated by a few big names. This is about to change as a talented new generation get their feet in the door. Here are five of the hottest new shooters working in the country
Fashion photography in China, perhaps even more than in other places, is dominated by big names, some international – Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti – or local superstars such as Chen Man and Sun Jun.
Independent fashion magazines are on the rise in China as they focus on style outside the mainstream
A fashion media market dominated by big name magazine titles, an undeveloped creative education system and a profession still largely driven by favours and relationships all make it hard for young outsiders to break into the trade.
Yuan Yuan Jin, who made the move from public relations to photography agent back in 2005 at the behest of international photographers wanting to find work in the Chinese market, has been working with local photographers since 2006 and supports up-and-coming talent via her YYO Foundation in Shanghai.
She points out that, internationally, photographers and magazine titles commonly have exclusivity agreements, meaning that it’s unusual to see a row of fashion magazines with covers by the same photographer.
This isn’t so in China, where editorial and commercial lines are often blurred, meaning creativity often takes a back seat to playing it safe in the interests of maintaining valuable brand partnerships.
“You have all these publications fighting for the clients and sacrificing creativity to keep the client happy, so you see everyone using exactly the same photographer. You have some photographers, perhaps the top one per cent covering 100 per cent of the jobs and outside there are the other 99 per cent dying for an opportunity,” Jin says.
“If you go to the newsagent here and look at the magazines, you will have Chen Man shooting the cover for 10 of the magazines. She’s great, but all the publications should be more bold. To stand out and have a different point of view, a different look, mood and feel.”
Already, a new generation of fashion magazines in China, from T Magazine, to Nylon, The Gentlewoman and i-D China are starting to push the boundaries with their editorial work.
This, combined with the increase in young photographers seeking international education and experience before returning to work in China – a well-documented phenomenon among young Chinese fashion designers making a splash in their homeland – is likely to see more doors opened to promising names in the years to come.
Already well known on the international scene, having shot for international Vogue and Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book, Kiki Xue studied mathematics at university before changing tack and moving to Paris to pursue a career in fashion photography.
Xue’s images are known for rich and saturated colours, similar to the aesthetic of Paolo Roversi, a hero of the young Chinese photographer.
“I actually met Paolo Roversi in Shanghai years ago; he was very kind, we talked about how to approach fashion as a fashion photographer. I have kept his advice in mind and it was very helpful to listen to his words at the beginning of my career,” Xue says.
“Every one of us has a unique view on life; photography is a way of expressing life experiences and sharing inner thoughts. Through photography, you can express the real you.”
kikixue.com; Instagram @kikikixue
Jin Jiaji’s aesthetic feels stark in its sparing nature. Faces stare without expression, backgrounds are monotonous and forms and colours are introspective. Jin Jiaji’s work makes the viewer feel as though they are seeing beyond the exterior of the models into an interior, private world. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the 28-year-old Beijing native’s favourite photographer is German Wolfgang Tillmans, who is known for his simple and luminescent style.
Having already shot for big names in China, including Harper’s Bazaar, Modern Weekly and Elle China, Jin is looking forward to working on more personal projects in the near future.
“Before, I had this dream, and I started to carry around a camera to try and capture the photograph of what this dream looked like,” Jin says.
Yuan “Circle” Lu
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Shanghai-based Yuan Lu, who also goes by the name Circle (the name Yuan sounds the same as the word for circle in Mandarin), became interested in fashion photography after graduation.
She realised the amazing “chemical reaction” that was created when a group – from the editorial team, the stylists, designers, make-up and hair professionals – came together and contributed ideas to a single shoot.
Lu’s exaggerated aesthetic is formulated with a significant amount of post processing, combining photography with collage, acrylics, and digital painting.
“The objects that I shoot are real, but the images I create based on these objects could be something not real. Isn’t that interesting?” Lu says.
Coming from an illustration background, Dongyu Wang’s photos feature bright colours and a sharp, playful style. Also proficient in creating GIFs, videos and multimedia works, Wang’s aesthetic is overtly youthful and energetic.
“I love to create, dare to try, and constantly challenge myself. Whether it is a photograph or a piece of artwork, it has to have its own unique style,” Wang says.
At the start of his career, with the support of Yuan Yuan Jin’s YYO Foundation, Wang has already shot campaigns for Shanghai’s luxury retail and entertainment area Xintiandi, as well as commercial work for domestic Chinese fashion brands.
Hong Kong-born photographer Issac Lam explores the limits and conventions of beauty in his photography. The 24-year-old focuses on youth cultureand his work has appeared in China’s youth-centred Vogue Me magazine, as well as editorial work for Lane Crawford and Joyce in Hong Kong.
“Personally, things or people being perfect and flawless do not catch my eyes. However, one’s flaws do, because flaws could reflect one’s specialness and uniqueness,” Lam says. “In my point of view, ‘Beautiful’ is like an unpleasant or bad smell, but for some reason, you just like it, and you could not explain it.”
issaclam.com; Instagram @issaclam_