Chen Man: Stylized Icon

Since bursting onto the China's media scene with a series of eye-catching covers for 'Vision' magazine from 2003, Chen Man has become the country's premier fashion and beauty photographer. The 31-year-old Beijing-born and bred creator was still just a student of graphic design and photography at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the nation's capital when her unique style catapulted her into the public consciousness.
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Red Crest, 2008 (c)Chen Man

Since bursting onto the China's media scene with a series of eye-catching covers for Vision magazine from 2003, Chen Man has become the country's premier fashion and beauty photographer.

The 31-year-old Beijing-born and bred creator was still just a student of graphic design and photography at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the nation's capital when her unique style catapulted her into the public consciousness.

"I did a lot of retouching at the time," Chen Man says, "I shot only one photo a month, so I did a lot of things with it."




Pink Face, 2005 (c)Chen Man

This was back at the turn of the millennium, when digital post-production was in its infancy. Chen Man's fantastical images, which seamlessly fused photography with 3D rendering experimentation, set Vision apart as a leader in avant-garde design, and attracted the attention of a fashion and beauty world ready to push aesthetic boundaries.

Chen Man herself describes her images as "bizarre" and "gaudy" and to this day speaks with incredulity of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a talent with both a camera and a computer.

"At that time, there was no photographers using computers to Photoshop pictures - even for beautifying. So you can see at that time, I was so different. I wanted to make something new," she says, proud of her pioneering status with both Photoshop and 3D-Max.


Chen Kun, 2009 (c)Chen Man

Cotton, 2008 (c)Chen Man

"Photographers didn't regard me as a photographer, artists didn't regard me as an artist. I was in a very special position."

Throughout her career, Chen Man has undergone multiple incarnations. There was the first, experimental whiz-kid behind those infamous Vision covers. This exposure led to the second stage, when fashion and beauty editors began clamouring for Chen Man's services to set their pages apart from the mainstream and celebrities, including David Beckham who also got the Chen Man treatment.

"I was chosen by first class celebrities to take their pictures and I was invited by famous international brands to shoot their ad campaigns, so I started to have some discursive power in the mainstream fashion field," she says.


Long Live the Motherland, 2009 (c)Chen Man

Zhou Xun, 2009 (c)Chen Man

This power has led Chen Man to her current position, moving away from editorial and commercial work, towards the fine art realm, where her hyper-stylized depiction of femininity is finding favor with collectors and gallerists alike.

Her over-the-top aesthetic has remained constant throughout Chen Man's career, though her subjects have progressed to more abstract concepts, using the female form to comment on environmental protection, capitalism and more.

When asked about the darker edges of her work, the more sinister meanings embedded within the beauty of her photographs, Chen Man says her "inspiration comes from life" and in many way, her aesthetic is reflective of the situation of her generation, which looks from the outside to be rosy, but is on closer inspection far more complex than it seems.


Golden Fish Goblin, Vision, 2003 (c)Chen Man

"We're the generation after the Chinese economic reform; the [societal] development is smooth, but it also brings about many problems that are not very obvious on the outside," Chen Man says. "I usually use very beautiful imageries to represent the dangerous, hidden problems underneath."

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To see more of Chen Man's work, check out 'MAN: Chen Man Visual Arts Exhibition', now showing until 7 February, 2012 at MoCA Shanghai and for the full listing, click here

Casey Hall

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