Interview With Renowned Chinese New York Photographer

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Q: Gloria, I am glad you are here today for the interview. In the past few months, you have created series of very unique fashion photographs, can you tell me what distinguishes you from other New York fashion photographers conceptually or aesthetically?

A: When we talk about the concept and aesthetic, these are really big questions. Basically, I think the biggest difference between mine and others is that I pay more attention to the beauty of the models themselves rather than the clothing. I think clothing displayed by different people can show different tonality and produce completely different effects. So how to use the beauty of ordinary people who are far away from mainstream beauty in order to show the clothing is what I pay more attention to. Eventually, it’s the people wearing the clothes, not the other way around.

Q: We found that in your artworks, most of your models do not meet the general standard of beauty. There are maybe some elderly people and children. They may have various body shapes. Can you explain why you prefer to work with them?

A: As I mentioned before, I prefer to focus on “people” themselves. There really isn’t anybody who is more beautiful or uglier than anyone else. It’s just the way we were trained to see ordinary people in a different way from the mainstream “beauty”. So I would love to see how unique those models are when I abandon those “beauty rules”. I don’t think beauty has a simple standard. It should be diverse. For example, in my photos, the smiling faces of these slightly fat children are extremely beautiful. When they put on clothes designed for adults, you may feel that they show a unique feeling in their outfit. The displacement of the clothing and people is intriguing. I believe shooting with ordinary people helps me to explore the complicated relationship between fashion and people, which has always been my mind since I started shopping at 14.

Q: In your artworks, you usually ignore the models’ body shapes. Or let’s say that you blend the fashion style with their natural body very well so the audience don’t realize they are “not beautiful”, how did you achieve that?

A: I’m not that kind of person who only focuses on the traditional standard of beauty. There are too many beauties being chosen for photography. Personally, I prefer recording bodies that naturally change over time, such as elders. They may have wrinkles and their body shapes are not slim anymore, but they have natural changes over the years. I feel like there is a charm of time surrounding them. I think the word “beauty” is constantly changing, especially in the fashion field. In my own definition, my kind of beauty is so much about being genuine. I like people who are genuine about their looks, who accept their age and body shape genuinely. And I think maybe the reason why the fashion and models blend together well is the fact that I was also being very genuine with people participated in my projects , so they return me with their genuineness. 

Q: Can you explain a little more about the process of choosing a model?

A: It takes a relatively long time for me to find the best fit models for my projects, but I think it deserves that. I am always in a “casting director” mode, whenever I am walking on the street, taking subway… I would walk up to strangers on the street and ask for their numbers and just save a bunch of contacts, waiting for the right project to come up. Since the pandemic, it became extremely difficult to cast people on the street because everyone is wearing masks and nobody wants to talk with a random strange woman like me. So I went online to look for amatuer actors/actresses who are available for shootings. When I meet them, I like to talk with them so that I could learn about their experience, their understanding of the concept and their feelings about the clothing. Most of them have very different understandings towards fashion from mine. For example, in order to finish the shoot for King Kong magazine, I had conversation with 60 older models, including those who are not professional models. And then I  finalized several models that I was very satisfied with. Fortunately, the preparation process finally gave us a wonderful result. Even though they don’t post like professional models, their own body language and personality bring out something very genuine and unique. 

Q: There are many models from minorities in your artworks. Can you tell us the reason? And how is your work related to the discussion of racial representation in the fashion industry right now?

A: Yes it is. As a Chinese woman, I realize how hard it was growing up in China as a chubby girl. In order to escape the “thin and white” beauty standard which is very popular among Chinese women, I like to dig deeper on other culture to see what the alternatives are. Ever since then, I can’t take my eyes off minorities. They just have very interesting and unique concept for beauty, while the western media is constantly filled up with the same thing: tall, slim, glamorous. I think it’s my duty to bring diversity to the beauty industry through my lens, because I know it would encourage other young girls with different cultural backgrounds to look at themselves in a more understanding way instead of pursuing the one “true” beauty. I mean, girls would do anything to look more like the “standard beauty”, they would go on unhealthy diet, expensive surgery…

The western beauty standard is taking over many local culture, and is changing the way people from different culture look at themselves. There has been a loss of diversity in the fashion industry, and I try my best to present something culturally irreplaceable.

Q: What’s your opinion about the differences between the aesthetic of beauty in the U.S. and the standard in China?

A: At the first glance, there is a huge difference (laughs). Like I said, the aesthetic of beauty from China, or even Asia, are those white and thinner girls; while here in the U.S., people prefer those wheatish skin and plump girls. But if we look closer, they are essentially not much different from one another, because both of them are promoting a very limited understanding of beauty, and people are encouraged to spend endless amount of money on it. Ironically, Chinese woman would collect a full drawer of skin whitening products while the Americans like to visit tanning salons. Although I started my photography career first fighting against the Chinese standard of beauty, now I am actually fighting against any form of beauty representation that refuse to open up for more interpretation.

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