• Gavin Marcus

**This article first appeared on Radii's Photosensitive column. Check out Radii for more content documenting China's art and music scene.

On the eighth day of Gao Shan’s life he was adopted.

The formative event became the premise for the Henan province-based photographer’s 2019 award-winning breakout work, The Eighth Day. The book started as a mother’s simple request to be photographed and eventually blossomed into an intimate, existential exploration of what it means to see and, more importantly, what it means to be seen.

The result is a compelling visual dialogue that wrestles with loss, pain and regret, as much as it embraces love, compassion and, ultimately, reconciliation.

Originally a self-taught painter, the 32-year-old Gao Shan took up photography in 2007. It was initially as a street photographer that he gained his interest in the nuances of human behaviour, on both a societal and more personal level.

The Eighth Day came about unexpectedly. Initially, Gao Shan set out to photograph a portrait series of his mother. After shooting the first round of photographs in 2013, he felt they carried a feeling of detachment that seemed, “familiar yet unfamiliar. [As a result] a sense of loss welled up inside of me.” This feeling led to the realization that Gao Shan didn’t actually know his mother on a personal level. “To me, [my mother’s] existence was merely as a ‘mother’ in name,” he says.

He thus began to confront the idea of who he assumed his mother was with the reality of the woman he saw through his lens, marking a turning point not just in this particular body of work, but in his life. “In the process of shooting, I learned the story of my mother’s youth, and learned about her view on things, saw her understanding of the beauty in doing manual work. I realized this was [an area of] huge neglect for me.”

The desire to visually convey this feeling of neglect inspired Gao Shan to shift his focus from being a passive observer to an active participant. In one image, mother and son sit solemnly, almost tearfully, on the couch, shoulders touching, wearing only their underwear. The intimate conversations and stirring embraces of Gao Shan and his mother are so gripping and honest that it gives the viewer the impression that the photograph is a mere afterthought of the embrace.

Gao Shan expertly takes a style rooted in documentary photography, and layers it with an abstract flair. In one of the most stirring images in the series, a tightly framed shot shows a small portion of Gao Shan and his mother’s naked bodies locked together, limbs intertwined in an intense embrace. The photo artistically captures the intimacy of the physical embrace while conceptually capturing the tenderness of a mother and child revealing the most vulnerable parts of their souls for the first time. The photo carries a touching emotional quality to it.

As an audience, the intimacy is such that we feel invited into the room to eavesdrop on the conversation between mother and child. Gao Shan’s close ups of objects and of body parts, as well as his candid portraits, combine to capture in incredibly honest relief the raw essence of one woman’s lived experience.

See, for example, how he focuses on a hand with cracked and dirtied fingernails, or the image of a naked woman hunched over in the shower. These photos all feel like they have been captured by a magnifying glass that is being held over his mother’s life for the first time. The entire work feels as much an apology as it does a love letter.

There is also a sense of loss — lost time, unknown memories, missed connections, overlooked relationships — that pulsates throughout the book. “I grew up in a family that was not good at communicating or expressing emotion,” he says. “Questions, such as my mother’s experiences or my own are hazy for one another. I feel a sense of loss from this.”

The feeling is personalized in a striking image of Gao Shan dancing with his mother while wearing a suit belonging to his father — a figure, who, due to long-distance work commitments, has largely been absent from their lives.

Throughout The Eighth Day, Gao Shan extensively utilizes the “everyday” object as a thematic device to further contextualize the lived experience of his mother. “These everyday objects set out together look very ordinary, but showing ‘the everyday’ congealed together, it has a strong power,” he says. By gelling together these seemingly banal and mundane everyday items they become abstractions which symbolize a mother’s daily routine — the complexities of which have been overlooked by her family. This, in turn, emphasizes the work’s main theme: the concept of neglect.

This idea of neglect is also imbued in Gao Shan’s use of repetition. Recurring objects and repeated portraits of his mother in very similar poses imply the human tendency to become numb to the importance of an object, or in this case, a person. Familiarity can breed neglect.

“In addition to the reality of loss, I also felt the loss of ‘meaning,'” the photographer tell us. “When an everyday thing is repeated thousands of times, it loses its sense of ritual.”

So refined is the storytelling of The Eighth Day, that Gao Shan intertwines nuanced themes that seem to be conversing with each other. One such theme that almost runs counter to the underlying sense of loss and neglect, is an equally palpable feeling of resolution. The intimate embraces that are full of emotional intensity, burst with a sense of reconciliation and the renewal of appreciation and love. As Gao Shan has stated in previous interviews, his adoption on the eighth day of his life was the end of one life cycle, and the beginning of another.

Although it embodies elements of a “coming of age” tale, it would be almost dismissive to label it as just that. Rather than being a search for identity, The Eighth Day is an intense act of introspection. The book is as much an ode to motherhood as it is a deep contemplation of the idiosyncrasies of being imperfect. While being a revealing visual dialogue between mother and son, Gao Shan’s stand-out body of work is also a compelling display of how the act of re-examining emotional blind spots can produce a sense of reconciliation with the past, allowing him to see the present more clearly.

When asked about how this work has changed his perception of the world around him, Gao Shan replies that it has taught him to “be more sensitive to the changes in one’s life. And when you discover these changes, to think about their energy, frequency, and impact.”

This fascinating work thus acts as a prompt — that we too have a choice in life: to be passive observers or active participants in the world.

** This article first appeared on Radii. Check out radiichina.com for my articles and videos documenting China's young and talented artists.

**This article first appeared on www.radiichina.com.

Photographer Pixy Liao has a fraught relationship with relationships.

“I accept the fact that the world surrounding me will never completely accept me,” she candidly tells us. “For me, it’s more important to create a world for myself than to think about what other voices say.” It is this attitude that allows the Shanghai-born photographer to challenge the expectations enforced upon her.

The creation of this world began 13 years ago, when Liao met her partner and art collaborator, Moro, while studying photography at the University of Memphis. What started as a way to get to know each other turned into a poignant portrait series that playfully re-imagines traditional gender norms. Set against the backdrop of her own relationship, Liao’s series, Experimental Relationship, flips the power dynamic on its head portraying the couple in reversed roles.

Misrepresenting Misrepresentation

The images, which portray Liao as a dominant, almost authoritative force over the subservient and docile Moro, serve as a direct contrast to the traditional view of relationships that Pixy grew up around. “As a woman brought up in China, I used to think I could only love someone who is older and more mature than me,” Liao writes on her website about the problematic cultural expectations that came with dating a man five years her junior.

Thought-provoking yet refined, the portraits show a range of often-intimate scenes, such as a fully-clothed Liao cradling her naked lover, to more provocative images where Liao is subtly biting and choking Moro, or eating a vagina-shaped papaya off his crotch at the breakfast table. “I have always doubted the stereotype of a man-woman relationship,” Liao writes in the foreword to a book accompanying the Experimental Relationship portrait series. “Why does man have to be a certain way? Why should woman be a certain way?”

Laced throughout Liao’s body of work is her distinctive brand of humor. By simply reversing gender roles, her photography exhibits a poker-faced satire that shines a ridiculing light on the gaping cracks of convention. “I take humor very seriously,” Liao avows: “It reveals one’s true self. I think people will get my work when they are amused by it.” The accessibility of everyday scenes and Liao’s humor invite the audience to imagine a world that subverts the narrative of the gender-normative.

By reversing gender roles, Liao’s photography exhibits a poker-faced satire that shines a ridiculing light on the gaping cracks of convention

This subversion of traditional power dynamics is repeatedly emphasized in her other artwork, most notably Soft-Heeled Shoes. Liao’s art piece, a pair of shoes, uses a latex heel cast from her partner’s erect penis. The result is a visual metaphor that antagonizes the patriarchal power dynamics in society. When asked to elaborate, Liao recalls that she “couldn’t put all my weight on [the shoes]. If I did, they would break, which shows that you can’t rely on a man that much. [Women need to] depend on ourselves.“

Opposing Forces

Another powerful theme that runs through Liao’s work is the omnipresence of opposing forces, and the dialogue between them. Love and hate are the most pervasive — a theme perhaps influenced by the “usually tense, sometimes hostile” relationship between Pixy and Moro’s home countries, China and Japan. In one photo titled “Intimacy will improve your relationship,” a loving embrace disguises feelings of anguish. Another shot, named “Spit,” shows Liao tenderly looking at Moro while spitting directly into his mouth. Liao’s work not only exposes the delicate demarcation between love and hate, but also asserts that one is often a byproduct of the other. “A relationship is built by two lovers, but also two rivals,” Liao states. “The hatred comes out of love because love is only ideal in our own imagination. “

“A relationship is built by two lovers, but also two rivals” — Pixy Liao

Control and subservience is another dichotomy prevalent in Pixy’s work. The presence of the cable release — the button that allows Liao and Moro to remotely take the picture — in almost all of Liao’s photographs represents the contradiction of power. In a relationship there is always a power struggle,” she says. The cable’s recurring presence transcends its status as merely a functional object. Although Pixy assumes the position of authority, the power to take the shot is mostly in the hand of Moro. Liao comments on this paradoxical relationship as “a sign of power,” noting that “it also gives Moro some degree of control in the photo… He takes a cue from me to click the shutter.” The enigma of opposing forces in Experimental Relationship challenges the audience go beyond Liao and Moro, to question the power dynamics in their own relationships.


What is most enjoyable about Liao’s work is its autobiographical nature. Her time living in Memphis, Tennessee has added an appreciation for vibrant, yet delicately-matched color palettes, accompanied by an acute attention to detail nurtured from her graphic design background.

All of this is blended together by the cross-cultural influences that come to her by nature of being a Chinese immigrant living in the USA, dating a Japanese man.

However, Liao’s current biggest influence is the future, and who she wants to become. “What I desire to be as a person is what I make,” she says. The more Liao grows as an artist, the more she wants to move away from her relationship and branch off into work that represents her and other women’s lived experience. An example of this is the inspiration behind art piece “Breast Spray,” which originated from a news story of a German woman who robbed a store by spraying breast milk into the cashier’s eyes.

This shifting attitude is the impetus behind Liao’s latest work, Temple for Her. The art installation is a tribute to China’s only Empress, Wu Zetian. Although she is considered one of China’s most malicious historical figures, Liao’s aim is not to give agency to oppressive autocrats, but rather to challenge patriarchal misrepresentations of women throughout history. “The work is more about female desire and ambition,” Liao states.

It’s easy to interpret Pixy’s body of work as a feminist statement. But for the artist, it’s not as black and white as that. “My work is not about equality — it’s about my fantasy,” she said at a recent talk. Her challenge to traditional societal expectations doesn’t come in the form of an abrasive middle finger; it comes through creating a world where these expectations don’t exist.

Below is the full interview with with Pixy Liao talking about her work, cultural differences, and her inspirations:

Your journey with photography started with a leap of faith as you moved to a country you’d never been to before. Can you share with us how you first got into photography?

Pixy Liao: I was a graphic designer in China. At that time, I was frustrated with my job because my work was always being changed by clients. I wanted to do something where people could not change my creative work. When I watched the movie Blow-Up, I was fascinated by the photographer’s lifestyle in the film, and thought maybe this is the perfect job. No one can change the photo once it’s taken. So I decided to go abroad to study photography. When I was a graphic designer, I was a keen collector of images. I looked at so many images online, photos and paintings. I also paid a lot of attention to color combinations — that was a habit I developed as a designer.

Can you tell us Experimental Relationship and how it came about? What are some of the central themes or concepts you wanted to explore with this photo series?

This project started from 2007, one year after [Moro and I] had been together. In the beginning, I did it because I noticed that our relationship was viewed as somewhat abnormal by others. I wanted to explain how natural and how fun it is for us to be like this in our relationship. I wanted to test people’s acceptance of a different type of heterosexual relationship. Also, I wanted to test what is the limit of our real relationship.

You mentioned previously that you have always doubted the stereotype of a man-woman relationship. How does this series challenge the stereotypes of the man-woman relationship?

When I started this relationship, I noticed that because I was much more experienced in life than he was at that time, I became the one with the authority. It is a very different type of relationship than what I experienced or knew before. In China, a woman will usually have a relationship with an older, more experienced man. The photos are my notes on what a relationship look like if we do something different — not necessarily just a woman leading a man, but more like collaborating in different ways other than man-leading-woman.

How much of the narrative of your work is your take on the female gaze? What is your definition of the female gaze?

I don’t know what “female gaze” is. It’s a female gaze because I’m female. Because I grew up and live as a woman in this world. It must be a completely different feeling than living as a man in this world. So it’s not a male gaze.

A lot of your art lampoons the voyeurism and fetishism that the male gaze traditionally uses to objectify women and empower men. Yet, your work also is so much more than simply turning the power tables on gender. How important do you think it is for the female gaze to be more than simply a reversal of the male gaze and to concentrate on other themes?

Since I cannot experience male gaze, it’s hard for me to reverse that. Women not being “women” does not mean being men. There is so much space in between. What about people who don’t feel like they’re either a man or a woman, or who feel like both a man and a woman? I believe gender is a spectrum, it’s not just two genders. I’m somewhere in between.

A lot of your work carries a distinctive, satirical sense of humor. Is this part of your personality that naturally came out, or was it a conscious creative decision?

That mainly comes from my personality. It’s also a key element I need in order to make work, I need to humor myself. I need to feel the fun of making it. I take humor very seriously. It reveals one’s true self. I think people will get my work when they are amused by it.

One of the most common reoccurring elements in your photography is the presence of the shutter release cable. I know that Moro holding the shutter release was a practical decision (because it’s easier for him to squeeze it) but, with the power to take the shot consistently in the hand of the Moro, it also begs the question of where the power lies.


Could you elaborate a little about the concept of power in your work and also on how you feel the shutter release adds emotional and/or transcendent depth to the series?

The cable is a clue in the photo. It shows how the photo was taken. It links the audience with us. It’s a sign of power. It gives gave Moro some degree of control in the photo. He takes a cue from me to click the shutter. He controls the exact moment of taking the picture. I make the order, and I wait.

How has your art given you a deeper understanding of the concept of a relationship, love and life in general? And how is the changing dynamic of your relationship reflected stylistically and thematically in your work?

This project grows with our relationship, and has taught me so much about relationships. A long-term relationship is a living thing. It’s always changing. Our relationship has changed during the course of 13 years. In the beginning, I was so much more dominant in the relationship. It shows in my work as well. And in recent years, my photos have changed because our relationship has gone through different stages. There were moments of doubt, reflection, understanding, and supporting each other. These show in my photos.

By virtue of being in a relationship and following a profession that subverts the expected norms of the culture you grew up in, how have you dealt with the criticism that comes with going against the grain and rejecting societal expectations? And how has this developed your artistic style and outlook on life over the years?

I grew up in China. When I was a kid, I already knew that I didn’t completely fit in there. And today, I know that I do not perfectly fit in anywhere in the world. I accept the fact that the world surrounding me will never completely accept me. At the same time, I don’t want to change myself. That helps me to go against the grain. For me, it’s more important to create a world for myself than to think about what other voices say. I’m always intrigued by artists who create artwork from what’s within themselves.

Your work has been shown all over the world in magazines, exhibitions and galleries. How have you noticed the difference in how your work is received in China compared to a Western audience? Is there anything you find that gets lost in translation from culture to culture in your work?

Compared to a Western audience, the Chinese audience in general is not familiar with contemporary art, art history, or different ideas on sexuality. I don’t feel that much difference when showing the work in galleries or museums in China, but I will get many random questions if showing the work in public.

In Western countries, I don’t have that problem. In general, I find that a Western audience might like my work because they think it’s refreshing to see some different ideas concerning gender identities, especially from Asian artists.

Even though my work is better received in the West, I always feel that my work is still viewed as “other,” as “other’s issues,” whether they like my work or not.

But for the Asian or Chinese audience, they resonate more with my work, because we come from a similar cultural background. If I have a show in China, there will always be young Chinese girls and women talking to me, telling me how much they like the work.

Previously, when talking about yours and Moro’s nationalities, you described your relationship as a “love and hate relationship.” Can you expand a little on your thoughts on these embedded cultural differences? How does this come out in your photography?

Japan and China have a long and complicated history. It’s usually tense, sometimes hostile. But at the same time, the two countries influence each other so much. Our history is intertwined. I see it somewhat like a love and hate relationship, in a way that is similar to our own relationship.

I think everyone who is ever in a relationship experiences the love/hate dynamic at some point. As much as you love him/her, there are always times when you cannot put up with your lover. The hatred comes out of love because love is only ideal in our own imagination. Many of my photos can be explained with both love and hate like when I’m kissing him, I’m choking him at the same time, or a hug looks both tender and aggressive. A relationship is built by two lovers and also two rivals. Even though, I still believe we need to stay together and mend our relationship, just like our countries do.

Experimental Relationship’s main themes of challenging gender power dynamics and society’s ideas about relationships and sexuality are also continued in your other work, like Man Bags, Soft Heeled Shoes and Breast Spray. How has broadening out into other mediums advanced your comprehension of your own art and expressive voice?

I choose mediums based on the requirements of how to express an idea. When an idea cannot be realized in photographs, I will look into other mediums that I can work with. Sometimes some ideas will push me to learn new skills.

What is the story behind Soft Heeled Shoes?

I really hate wearing high-heeled shoes. I imagined if there were this pair of high-heeled shoes which the heels are made with a soft penis, and each step I take, the balls will be bouncing. That might be fun enough for me to forget about the pain of wearing them. So I 3D-scanned Moro’s penis and 3D-printed it into soft silicone like heels, and attached those to a pair of shoes. I took a brief happy walk in these shoes.

What about your latest work, Temple for Her? How has this work changed how you think about how the consistent under-representation and misrepresentation of women in art?

The inspiration for Temple for Her comes from my complicated feelings for Wu Zetian [the only empress in Chinese history] when I was young. I really liked her, but couldn’t admit that. I couldn’t admit that I adore this powerful woman because she is always considered evil. I made a miniature temple for her with a pool of blood in the shape of a woman, a red staircase, a phallic throne, a pair of golden rolling eyes, and a Chinese character Wu created for herself as her name, Zhao, which is a combination of two characters: “clear” and “sky.” In order to worship a powerful woman like her, we need to embrace the evil part of her as well.

Yours and Moro’s band, PIMO, just put out your third album, Hello World. Can you tell us a little about your band?

Moro is a talented musician, and we have a duo band called PIMO. In the band, he is the absolute leader. I usually just sing. It’s another way we work together. I enjoy making music with him. It’s a totally different angle of life in our music than the photographs. And I think through making music together, I’m paying him back.

What is next on the horizon for you?

I’m working on a conceptual work relating to more female leaders like Wu Zetian in history. The work is more about female desire and ambition.

Again, this article first appeared on www.radiichina.com. Check them our for more great content on China's art scene.

**This article first appeared on www.radiichina.com.

Inspired by an instinctive childhood fascination with female nudity, Xiao Guanmu (a moniker which translates to “Little Coffin”) uses her photography to challenge mainstream notions of beauty. For the last five years, the Beijing-based photographer has been traveling around China photographing nude portraits of young women from all walks of life.

In a society where expression through nudity is often seen as taboo, Xiao Guanmu’s portraits have a refreshing, humanizing quality. The models are photographed in their own homes in a collaborative way that allows them control over their own portrayal. By letting each model decide where and how they want to be shot, Xiao Guanmu creates a safe space for self-expression. With no prior plan determining the portraits, she makes each creative decision based on the objects present in the scene, available light, and each model’s personality. With nudity serving as a metaphor for stripping away societal pressures, Xiao Guanmu’s work penetrates through the banalities of the material world, revealing the human experiences of her models.

Photography, for Xiao Guanmu, is not just a platform to record what she sees; it’s also a way to transcend her understanding of the world through the lived experience of others. “Through photography, I get to know and understand myself,” she tells RADII. “To constantly have new feelings is the best part of the experience for me.”

After taking brief hiatus from photography in 2018 to overcome a personal tragedy, Xiao Guanmu is preparing to release her second book, the follow up to 2017’s Lai Dou Lai Le (“来都来了,” an online joke roughly translating to “you’re already here”). The new book picks up where Lai Dou Lai Le left off, with 100 nude portraits of women who approached Xiao Guanmu, requesting to have their photograph taken.

“Through photography, I get to know and understand myself. To constantly have new feelings is the best part of the experience for me.” — Photographer Xiao Guanmu

Xiao Guanmu’s two photobooks, 再来一杯 (2019) and 来都来了 (2017)

Shooting exclusively in public places or in the homes of her models has helped Xiao Guanmu acquire one of her most noteworthy talents: the ability to craft stories about strangers using very limited space and light. “I always insist on shooting [in this kind of environment] because I think it’s beautiful,” she says. It’s rough and messy, but it has a texture you can’t get in a ‘perfect’ studio.”

This texture, along with her vibrant color schemes, evokes each model’s unique personality and gives a dream-like quality to her work. “Although the setting is sometimes not perfect, imperfection is a type of perfection,” she acknowledges.

Xiao Guanmu’s portrait series is a window into a changing attitude. The attitude, shared by groups of younger women in China, challenges the outdated, traditional notion of beauty and womanhood. “Many people have given up on the idea that it’s the norm for a girl to look for a husband and live a life as a housewife,” Xiao Guanmu states. Her work contextualizes this shifting attitude as a modern-day conversation that is personal to every woman.

“Many people have given up on the idea that it’s the norm for a girl to look for a husband and live a life as a housewife” — Xiao Guanmu

Xiao Guanmu’s photography opens up a dialogue between young women and conservative attitudes towards femininity. The authentic self-expressions her work captures give a voice to this generation of women. “Things that are too perfect create a sense of panic that makes me feel stiff,” she says. “People should create beauty, but I think it’s important to first develop a sensibility for the discovery and tolerance of beauty.”

Beauty, Xiao Guanmu asserts, is a construct that women must create and own for themselves.

Can you talk a little about the philosophy behind your work?

Xiao Guanmu: Photography to me is like writing a diary. Both are recording history. Diaries records text, whereas photography is more [visual] and explicit. When I see a beautiful scene, just pressing the shutter is enough for me to record its essence.

How would you describe your style, and what are some of the messages you want to communicate?

Personally, I don’t like explaining to people who haven’t seen my work before what my style is like. Ask a thousand people what they think of Hamlet, and you get a thousand different answers. Everyone has different aesthetic concepts and grew up in different environments. Different people will look at the same photograph and have different thoughts and ideas. I don’t think this [my style] is something I can explain or get consensus on.

My photographs don’t have a specific theme, but I do like to shoot in brightly colored, old houses or in sunny ruins. At the end of the day, why I always insist on shooting in this kind of environment is because I think it’s beautiful. This kind of beauty is not the simplistic kind of beauty. Even though it’s rough and messy, it has a texture you can’t get in a “perfect” studio. And I think it’s unique.

What I want to express is actually quite simple. I don’t like to shoot in a studio, I don’t like to use lights or set up and design a scene for shooting. I also don’t shoot very deliberately. Although the setting is sometimes not perfect, imperfection is a type of perfection. Things that are too perfect create a sense of panic that makes me feel stiff. People should create beauty, but I think it’s important to first develop a sensibility for the discovery and tolerance of beauty.

What would you say is your main motivation to continue taking pictures?

When I was very young — a time when we were not as tightly controlled as we are today — I’d often go to the supermarket and look at the [naked] bodies on the covers of the top-shelf magazines. At that time, I didn’t understand anything about it, but I didn’t think it was pornographic. I was magically drawn to it. I thought women’s bodies were so beautiful.

After growing up and working for two years, one day I suddenly recalled this memory. I grabbed my monthly salary, went out and bought a camera, and that’s how I started.

To be honest, by 2018, I was tired of taking photos. That year I hardly took any new photos. Everyday I chose to just laze on the sofa, on the bed, or wherever I could just collapse down onto. It wasn’t until this year, when I experienced a series of shocking events, that I realized I should continue to do this project. I still love it.

For a while I didn’t know how to express this love, and I didn’t want to use the same form of expression as before. Just like running a marathon, when you get halfway through, you may feel tired and need to find a place on the side of the road to rest and think about how to run the next half. When you understand how to start again, you start again. I think I’ve already reached the next starting point.

When shooting each individual model, how much does their personality and life experience influence the shot?

I think it does have an impact on my photography. Some girls are not very open, and choose [to shoot in] quite private, closed-off, small spaces. Some models are my friends, who are a little more wild and open to go to many different places to shoot — the creative canvas is a little bigger. I also like to take photos in models’ homes. Their homes are more reflective of their individual life experiences. The resulting photos are much more authentic.

Can you describe a little about your creative process when deciding how to shoot a single portrait?

To be honest, my creative process is quite random. I don’t think about how I am going to shoot in advance. A lot of the time is spent hanging out and drinking with the models. We’ll often walk to a place and think, “Ah, this place is not bad,” and we’ll shoot some shots. Or we’ll be lying around at their home, chatting, when the sun suddenly comes through and we’ll start taking pictures. It’s all pretty random. I don’t like to make plans ahead of time and follow them. It makes me feel set in my ways.

“Things that are too perfect create a sense of panic that makes me feel stiff — people should create beauty, but I think it’s important to first develop a sensibility for the discovery and tolerance of beauty” — Xiao Guanmu

Your photography touches on subjects such as sexuality, lust, empowerment, constraint, and freedom. Are these themes you intended to explore further? If not, what are some other subjects you aim to explore?

I’ve always thought that people should just live in the moment. The current generation is always the best generation to live in. To begin with I was simply just searching the web for people interested in having their photos taken. After going to a lot of different places, I got to know a lot of new people and friends, and inadvertently started taking pictures of my female friends I hung around with. They are all such a great group of people. Even though some of them have different lifestyles from normal people, they are all free and independent. They don’t conform to the majority, and they have their own way of thinking. This is a genuine state of mind and I want to document it.

Would you say these themes and your subjects are representative of the younger generations of females in China?

I feel that [the photographs] represent another side to ordinary women in China. They [the models] are all independent women, reject the surface-level constraints [of society], and do what they enjoy doing.

How do you think the role of women is changing in Chinese society? Or is it? Does this serve as a source of inspiration for your photography?

There have been huge changes. I studied school in a second-tier city. When I got into arguments with my classmates, I used to use the phrase “gay” as an insult to offend them. Nowadays many people are starting to recognize this group [the gay community]. The same for females — many people have given up on the idea that it’s the norm for a girl to look for a husband and live a life as a housewife. Chinese females can be much more independent and can thrive in this day and age. I believe in egalitarianism, and it’s this belief that makes me more enthusiastic about documenting the women around me.

“I believe in egalitarianism, and it’s this belief that makes me more enthusiastic about documenting the women around me”

Lastly, who or what would you say is your biggest influence?

Before I got into photography, I really liked a Japanese photographer named Xi Jiang Ying Gong. When I saw his photos for the first time, I sat there opposite the screen, and was bowled over by the energy in the photos. I can’t express it in depth, but that’s the feeling I got. It left me with the thought that his photographs are very powerful. I wanted to be like him and take lots of powerful photos. That was my initial inspiration.

“It’s impossible to find or build a perfect scene every time, but I can certainly trudge through the dirt and see through the decay to find the beauty in any environment”

Actually, the biggest source of inspiration for me is the friends and people around me. My friends are all my mannequins and models. They give me a lot of inspiration just from daily life alone. Life is rough and chaotic. Although we often find ourselves in dirt, we also know how to party in the dirt, and to make ourselves and each other happier. This is the same for me when it comes to photography — it is impossible to find or build a perfect scene every time, but I can certainly trudge through the dirt and see through the decay to find the beauty in any environment.

All photos courtesy Xiao Guanmu. Follow her on Instagram.

Check out www.radiichina.com for more articles on Chinese youth culture.