As Mainland China’s hottest photographer, Chen Man is often thinking about the next big thing. Next season’s fashion. Next month’s magazine covers. Next year’s breakout film star, who will primp and preen in front of her lens for portraits that will stare out from newsstands around the world.
But today, she's thinking about the past—and the long journey to where she is now.
Making her mark
Chen burst onto the scene in Beijing in the early 2000s, when China’s economy was booming and Western luxury brands were wooing the newly wealthy with glossy adverts on billboards and in magazines.
Most of these photos were shot by Western photographers and starred white models, who were often pictured posing against quintessentially European backdrops. China, and Chinese people, were rarely featured. Chen saw an opportunity, but first she had to catch the industry’s attention.
Her big break came in the form of Vision magazine, a pioneering art and design publication in Shanghai that commissioned Chen to shoot cover stories while she was still a student at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Chen shook things up by regularly using Chinese models and dramatically editing her images using Photoshop, transforming straightforward portraits of models in shimmering make-up into cinematic scenes.
In one cover shot, the star’s hair has been replaced by swirls of computer-generated green ink that could have come straight from a traditional Chinese painting. In another, the model wears an astronaut’s helmet over a frilly Elizabethan collar and appears to be floating in the clouds as a rocket soars past her into space.