From beautifully artistic painting-like photo finishes to the more widely palatable medium of street photography, contemporary China offers a diverse array of talent to watch. Temper says click!
Whereas China’s best-known photography export aka celebrated celeb and celeb fashion photographer Chen Man circa 2003 may have officially put Chinese photographers on the world map helping to perk global interest in the country’s young creative photography talent, there still are many newer names on the need-to-see-now list.
As diverse as the country itself, this artistic collective presents a visually-led narrative of individual interests, aesthetics, and experiences that truly represent the dizzying diversity of the nation. The question beckons…
Who are the contemporary photographers of China?
There is equal room for futurism, a contemporary take on the past as there is for the joie de vivre of street fashion. There’s room for subculture, youth, alternative females and the domestic view of the world that is largely limited to the country’s native audience that goes beyond the cliché of a homogenous China that exists in the realms of the mind at home and abroad but not in the reality of today.
From beautifully artistic painting-like photo finishes to the aesthetic of digital reimagining, along with the more widely palatable medium of street photography, contemporary China offers a diverse array of talent to watch.
Let’s take off the long-distance lens and put the focus on a few must-sees in the world of China Photography.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Born in Qingdao, Liu Cunjun was first exposed to the world of photography in 2010. While visiting his cousin’s studio he was fascinated by the interaction between the photographer and his subjects, customers, and models. Liu gradually began to shoot and after training for four years he developed his understanding of the creative field.
Liu in 2014 relocated to Beijing where he began to pursue the field of fashion photography.
Asked by Temper what makes China and China Fashion interesting in se, Liu replies: “I do not want the work to be called China fashion or whatnot, I am interested in doing some element of fusion, I will shoot a lot of Chinese faces, but I think this will not define Chinese fashion, it does not belong to any country. My grandfather is a doctor of Chinese medicine what I want to do is a combination of Western medicine fashion :), Chinese history is approximately 5000 years long, there are many elements of fashion culture which have yet to be mined. I will use the combination of Chinese and Western approaches as a means to present some Chinese elements, which I have always been doing.”
Having shot features for major names including Dazed Digital and VICE China, Ka Xiaoxi’s photography focuses on capturing the ephemeral, raw beauty of youth. Providing a candid look at nightlife culture, Ka’s work lifts the curtain on contemporary China providing an engaging visual narrative that bridges cultures.
The Shanghai-based photographer and curator has already garnered an impressive client list of international and local need to know labels including Adidas, Converse, and Chinese contemporary brand Zuczug.
A talent to watch, Ka’s work has been published across a series of limited edition books including “Never Say Goodbye to Planet Booze”, “Light Room” and “A Fragment of China’s Youth”.
An MFA graduate of the California College of Arts, Zhang Wenxin is the embodiment of Chinese multi-local whose global outlook informs her creative perspective. Selected as the British Journal of Photograph’s 2016 New Talent, Zhang explores “the intricate relationship between the real and the fabricated, creating multipart projects that unearth the complex layers of delusion and estrangement embedded within her non-linear imagery. Her work functions as a kind of literary device from which the viewer can reconstruct a fictional narrative. Zhang’s process often begins with her personal experience and carefully tends to metaphoric and marginalized stories so as to unveil larger questions about the suppressed.”
The Goethe Institut in 2017 commissioned an online project from Zhang named “Excerpts From A Polymorphic Expedition”, as seen in this piece’s featured image”, which explores the iconic Western theme of “Odyssey”.
A trending topic on creative microblogs on WeChat for four years running, Sun Jun has shot some of China’s most famous faces – think Sun Li, Fan Bingbing, Du Juan for local editions of international magazines including Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar.
Known for his modern renaissance style photography which combines elements of traditional Chinese painting, Sun is a graduate of the prestigious China Academy of Art. His signature style has earned him accolades such as a “new cultural painting photographer”.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Roy Zhang has oft been compared to The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman. Known for his candid street photography that is defined by his knack for capturing both fun and fabulousness, professionally Zhang has worked international brands such as Miu Miu and shot famous faces such as supermodel Ming Xi and actress Zhou Dongyu.
Take a look at this artiste’s bigtime non-HBO miniseries “GIRLS” (女孩 in Chinese), an ongoing project which first saw the light in 2008. Courtesy of the DAZED YouTube Channel:
Luo Yang’s work focuses on the Chinese female as her reoccurring subject. Clicking off in 2007, Luo has been shooting her continuing series of photography called “GIRLS”. She describes her portraits as “images that depict an emerging Chinese subculture that defies imposed expectations and stereotypes – GIRLS are bad-*ssed and self-aware, yet insecure, vulnerable and torn, with a supreme sense of cool.
Underlying tensions and ambivalent emotions animate Luo’s images, which, above all, testify to the GIRLS individuality. They thus reflect a shifting mindset with regard to concepts of femininity and identity in present-day China.”
Jie Pai Gunshu
With some 2 million followers on Sina Weibo, “Jie Pai Gunshu” (街拍滚叔 in Chinese literally means “street photography gets lost brother”) is one of the country’s most locally well-known street photographers.
Shooting clean contemporary styles that range from elegant, cute to youth, the Hangzhou-based photographer provides a commercial look at what’s locally considered polished and stylish.
Having established himself as a successful creative, Jie Pai Gunshu also travels to international fashion events such as Pitti Uomo to provide global content locally curated for his Chinese followers.
With Chinese photographers openly embracing an international mindset while maintaining their own cultural perspective, today’s new wave of photographers is steadily making a name for themselves that is just as relevant, if not more, beyond its own borders.
Transcending geographic locations, this overall body of work is bridging the gap to engage and intrigue local and overseas audiences alike.
A kaleidoscope of viewpoints, there is no one China.
If anything, these distinct artistic voices all help to weave a rich tapestry of open-mindedness that defines the country’s modern sense of fashion and creativity.