The crew bustles around Chen Man’s studio on a particularly chilly Beijing evening. The space resembles something out of Star Trek, with fingerprint-activated doors and a Zen garden in a central courtyard that’s automatically engulfed in fog every hour to hydrate the plants.
This is the office of one of China’s most sought-after photographers, a woman who has had a hand in the most high-profile fashion campaigns shot in the country and who has sometimes even been asked to photograph herself for magazine covers. This time, though, she’s posing for fellow fashion photographer Trunk Xu, a close friend and one of the few she trusts to shoot her portrait other than herself.
“For me, being behind the camera or in front of the camera is just a matter of position—there’s not a huge difference,” says Chen Man. “Saying that, I do prefer being behind the camera. I love creating a whole world in a photograph.” Even with minimal make-up, she looks fresh despite having arrived on a flight from New Zealand at 4:30am.
She’s giving Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2019 collection a provocative, sexy spin, flipping her lush mane, pulling dresses off her shoulder, and baring a flash of her lace camisole. For the next shot, she straddles a chair in combat boots.
She calls out for a glimpse of the screen and readjusts as she sees fit. The cover shoot, which would normally take nine hours, is done in three. Chen Man is a woman who knows what she wants—and how to get it.