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Chen Man | One of the Most Incredible Fashion Photographers of our Time

Known for meshing traditional Chinese imagery with vivid colors and clean lines, the photographer Chen Man has risen in popularity, thanks in part to her diverse array of celebrity clients who range from Rihanna to Meryl Streep. Like the Chefs and Makeup Artists that have come before her, Chen Man has evolved from someone who photographs celebrities to a celebrity herself – becoming the first photographer to be featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar China.

Portrait of Chen Man herself.

Between her highly stylized approach and her celebrity rolodex she has drawn comparisons to Annie Lebovitz, with many referring to her as the “Annie Lebovitz of China.” But perhaps the most important thing you should know is that Chen Man is not the Annie Leibovitz of China, she is an original. She is unique, authentic, and most importantly, she brings something different to the world of photography.

Born in Beijing in 1980, Chen Man grew up after the Cultural Revolution as a child who was as observant as she was creative. By the age of 3 her parents enrolled her into painting classes, and as she recalls, “while other children went on holiday, I was always painting. I always stared at people.” By the time she entered college she decided to explore another artistic avenue – photography. It’s this combination of drawing and her attention to detail that she attributes to her success as a photographer, especially when it comes to celebrities. As she notes, “because I drew people a lot in my childhood, I’m very attuned to details. When I shoot celebrities, I make them look better. So, for most of the top-of-the-line celebrities, I became the top choice.” In addition to her detailed approach there’s a sensuality to her photographs, often showing the subject touching or caressing some part of themselves – it’s an element of her work that is uniquely Chen Man.

When she isn’t photographing celebrities, Chen Man is working on an image-based app that is similar to Instagram. The way she sees it – “the visual language is a language that does not need translation.” Her hope is that her app – which uses solely images and videos to communicate – will help to create an open dialogue across users in a way that the written word cannot. When using her app, people will be “using what they see to communicate, rather than a language that puts up walls and boundaries between different countries.”

Expansion and connection are the driving forces behind Chen Man’s work. As an artist her goal is to blur lines, build bridges, and form connections in everything that she creates – from her app to her photography. This includes shifting the global view of China and what the Chinese people have to offer. “People think Chinese look the same, but we are kind of like the Americans. We have 56 different races.” She notes that “people have this misconception that [the Chinese] have replicated what we think is the Western world” but, that isn’t the case. The fashion industry and art scene in China is unique and it’s booming – Chen Man is living proof of that.

by Sara Estelle Grayum