Do You Know China's Coolest Photographer?

Odds are, you've already seen Chen Man's work. Her high-impact photography has graced covers and editorials across international fashion publications. With one hand in the art world and the other in fashion, this Beijing-born photographer earned her photography and media studio degree from the Central Academy of Fine Arts and landed her first photography job in college shooting Chun Xiao in VISION magazine.
Her photos appear in galleries throughout China and the U.S., as well as in the pages of renowned glossies including Harper's Bazaar China, Vogue China, and recently, an article in American Vogue that features a stunning self portrait of the photographer fixed in front of the Great Wall.
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While her current list of projects is too long to list, Man made some time to fill us in — at least, from afar (she's based in Beijing) — on her past inspirations, current collaborations (include a gorgeous collaboration with MAC called Love and Water), and future aspirations. Let's just say the sky is hardly the limit for this trailblazer. Read on and peep some of our favorite snaps of, and by, Chen Man in the slides.
Photographed by Chen Man
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Tell us about your background. When and how did you pick up a camera?"
"I started to draw when I was two years old, then I went to high school at Central Academy of Fine Arts, Central Academy of Drama, and graduated college from Central Academy of Fine Arts. The main thing in my life is to be artistic. I focused on painting and sculpture-based traditional arts when I was in school, but I never really thought of being a photographer. Back then, artists didn't really make money or get that much attention. I was not [recognized as] a photographer in the photography industry because my works look like paintings; I was not [recognized as] an artist in the art industry because my work went in fashion magazines. I was in a very special place back then."

Photographed by Chen Man
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How has your work evolved over the course of your career?
"My works are divided into three phases:

"The first is the 'visual' phase. This is when I was still in college and did a lot of post-production. It was a young, creative passion. It felt alive. Then, I got into fashion and people were concerned about my works; they were afraid that too much post-production turns the photos into portraits of fairy and demons. And then, I jumped to a minimalist stage. These works made people know my skills beyond just post-production.

"After I had the chance to shoot many celebrities, I started to work on the Chinese contemporary background series. This series is very special to me because I’m the first fashion photographer to use Chinese contemporary faces and background in mainstream fashion. China was used to copying Western or Japanese or Korean style, but this was new — and easy to fail at. But I knew I could do it. China should not repeat its ancient art over and over again. I wanted to show how contemporary Chinese art can be. This group of photos — the most famous one with Lu Yan on the Great Wall — represented the first time that a mainstream fashion magazine portfolio was shot on the Great Wall. It was quite a sensation.

"The third phase of my works is based on Chinese culture interpreted through techniques. The two offer a visual combination of contemporary, international aesthetics and local, cultural sensibilities."

Photographed by Chen Man
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How else does your Chinese heritage serve as a source of inspiration?  
"Life is my inspiration. I love traditional Chinese philosophy and culture. My work is complex and it matches the faces of our era; it’s Eastern and Western; it’s neither mainstream nor anti-mainstream; it’s the past, the present, and the future; it’s tacky and elegant. This is all achieved through a combination of 'hardware' from ancient Chinese culture and 'software' from modern Western culture."

Photographed by Chen Man
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What's your secret to grabbing the perfect shot?
"I would like to thank the universe for giving me this great talent, but it was also acquired through long-term professional training. There are no rules. If there are, then it would be too easy to be imitated by others."

What do you like best about photographing fashion and beauty?
"I like the demeanor of transcendent beings."

Photographed by Chen Man
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Tell us about this self portrait for Vogue. Where were you and how did you get that shot?
"I shot it at my studio, Studio Six. I like the red, the green, the roundness, and the Great Wall. They are all on there."

Photographed by Chen Man
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We want to know about your collaboration with MAC! How did the partnership come about?
"The visual series in the first phase of my earlier works attracted them. Philip (Ing, vice-president of global retail and special events for MAC) found me. The line is inspired by and named after love and water. It comes from ancient Chinese ideology: harmony between man and nature. Love is invisible. Water is material and tangible. These are two main elements of the origin of life.

"The use of pink represents love and the West; blue represents water and the East. Furthermore, the environmental consciousness within us is what we need in a world dominated by materialism. We should use the fewest possible resources to create the highest possible intelligence, to reach harmony between man and nature.

Also, I really like the mineralized eye shadow. The color and shape of it looks like a yin-yang imprint. I feel this is something that has life to it."

Photographed by Chen Man
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What three beauty products do you rely on?
"Just lotion and eye cream."

What's next for you? What can we look forward to from here — more fashion and beauty collabs?
"I have a lot of new projects, all at confidential stages though. I’m definitely open to the idea of more beauty and fashion cross-over collaborations."

Photographed by Chen Man
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