Centre for Chinese Conetemporary Art

Fashion photography has often been underprivileged as an art form, especially when it comes head to head with classical painting or sculpture, or even other more ‘artistic’ forms of photography. The manipulated and often false images from this genre can sometimes leave the viewer looking at a rather empty image. However Chen Man, a Chinese photographer from Mongolia currently showing a variety of her work at Manchester’s Chinese Arts Centre, has cleverly converged art with high fashion in her aesthetically intoxicating images. Man’s work plays with the juxtaposition of the real and imaginary, as well as the manufactured and the organic, creating her own kind of futuristic images, where fashion meets art.

Modern culture is certainly always looking towards the futuristic and the digital, to utopian and imagined realities. Chen Man’s photographs, despite being heavily manipulated, still maintain the essence of her culture, which she captures in the colours and patterns within her work. The models we see in these images have a hyper-real quality, they are almost alien girls, and seem indicative of society’s unrealistic imagining of the perfect. Many of the photographs on show in Chen Man’s self titled show at the Chinese Arts Centre, focus on the model’s faces, on lips and eyes, giving them a bold and resonant quality. Young Pioneer and Chang’e no.1 Lunar Probe (2009) shines with female power, desire, ecstasy, and the sublime. Like many of Man’s pieces the sky and clouds here are important; they represent something other-worldly like heaven or space, presenting a clever mix of religious and sci-fi connotations.

Fashion photography can often centre around obtaining perfection, and the conflict between natural and airbrushed images. The photographs in this exhibition make an articulate comment on this, by making post-production and editing an honest and integral part of their aesthetic. Chen Man has openly incorporated her personal culture into the palette of her pieces, for example her use of vivid red, and digitally added swirling patterns including flowers and dragons, side by side with the Chinese models.

While many images of models focus purely on the subject, Chen Man has brought in a co-existing narrative and context, which mainstream fashion photography can sometimes leave ignored. She often uses city landscapes from China, which coincide with the contours of the female form, and both are merged together in a mixture of real and digitally produced imagery. Man’s photographs somehow make clashing subjects work with one another, and both provide not only aesthetic beauty but a narrative of the artist’s ideas about culture.

Crash (2007) is pure and pale, and is perhaps one of the most significant inclusions in this exhibit. This piece is indicative of what many of Chen Man’s pieces do, which is making the model become a part of the whole image. The lines of the body become one with the digital swirls or the seemingly contradictory urban backdrop. The female models in these photographs are almost abstract, and are working with the entire picture rather than standing alone. Every colour has been carefully preconceived and meticulously edited to reflect the desire for an ‘ideal image.’ The perfectly airbrushed skin of the girls works together with the overlaying patterns, and certainly makes a comment about contemporary fashion imagery and real vs. imagined beauty.

Despite having photographed for the likes of Elle, Nylon and Vogue, amongst many others, Chen Man has maintained her status of artist as well as fashion photographer. Her cleverly engineered photographs not only have a narrative concerning the artists culture but also parallel this with colourful and stimulating compositions, which only adds to the main subject; the fashion. Man has managed to create a mode of photography which adheres to contemporary fashion imagery but still maintains a signature style and artistic manner. Her images are futuristic yet still inclusive of her heritage. Chen Man has made an honest comment about utopian ideals in her work, and it is perhaps for this reason why her photographs are so popular amongst high fashion publications. This exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre presents a stunning collection of her pieces which make it clear why she is becoming increasingly admired. The post-production of Man’s pictures creates an aesthetically pleasing context for the fashion she is shooting, and she has certainly proved that fashion and art can co-exist