'Shanghai 2002': Portrait of a city revealed by women's faces

By He Keyao ( ) Updated: 2016-06-13 11:48:26

'Shanghai 2002': Portrait of a city revealed by women's faces

Internationally renowned Chinese dancer Jin Xing strikes a pose in the bathroom at the Grand Theatre of Shanghai, April 2002.[Photo provided to China Daily]

What makes a Chinese woman charming? And what was life like in Shanghai back in the beginning of the 21st century? What's the pulse of China's development in recent decades?

A unique photo project created 14 years ago in Shanghai and shown for the first time in China answers just that.

"The idea of the project is to portray the city through women's faces," said French photographer Bettina Rheims and novelist Serge Bramly, whose photo exhibition Shanghai 2002 is on display at Three Shadow Photography Center in Beijing.

A total of 200 photos were made for the series in 2002 when the two visiting French artists were impressed by fast-growing Shanghai.

"It feels the same as we experienced New York in the 70s. Everything is new and people are eager to express themselves," said Bramly.

Her models in the series come from all walks of life, including office workers, journalists, retirees, and civil servants, for example. Most had no modeling experience and showed up just as they are, giving the project a strong sense of reality.

To present a more realistic and aesthetic experience, some women disrobed in front of the camera for the first time – a bold move at that time for Chinese society. The models asked for the artists' promise that the photos would not be revealed in their homeland for a decade. This is why the exhibition returned to where it was created after as many as 14 years.

"There is always a mystery in Chinese women that is impossible to penetrate, even with the best lighting and best photograph, which is so exciting," Rheims said.

Meanwhile, some entertainment celebrities, such as Chinese dancer and TV host Jin Xing and actresses Zhou Xun, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh are among those who posed for portraits.

"Jin Xing was fantastic. Shanghai is in a big change and Jin is probably the symbol of that change," Bramly told China Daily website when asked about the artists' impression of the Chinese celebrities they photographed. "She changes her sex, her appearance, her everything."

The exhibition will run until July 10 before it moves to Chongqing.

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