You really do need to take a closer look, because the situations captured by the Chinese photographer are very strange: a child wearing clothes with puppet-like strings attached; a couple of children sharing one pair of trousers; a budgerigar caught under transparent foil, or a still life with cut up pieces of fruit, butterflies and kitchen utensils. The pictures are perfectly arranged, but the meanings are puzzling. The photographer toys cleverly with the viewer's expectations, but after taking a longer look at the picture arrangements they become all the more weird. Xiaopeng Yuan used commercial photo shoot backdrops for the series, but he is not showing any fashion items or consumer products; rather he allows the settings and the protagonists to convey new and unusual narratives.
The project began already four years ago, when the Shanghai-based photographer was assigned to work on a campaign for a Chinese children's fashion brand: however, when he got to the set, he found western-looking children who he was supposed to photograph in front of a backdrop reminiscent of a suburb in the USA. This is not an unusual approach, because in China the beauty ideal for local fashion brands is oriented towards a western-type flavour. Consequently, the photographer later went on to question the phenomenon in a personal series of his own instigation. This resulted in strange, at times disturbing motifs. “The mixture between feelings of anxiety and childishness is the point that attracts me,” the photographer explains. The graphics and layout of the photo book – which looks rather like a fashion brochure – reflect this idea in a consequent manner: inconsistencies and oddities are deliberately present. “Everything in the book has an appearance of normality, but something isn’t quite right,” the designer, Sarah Piegay Espenon, points out.
The outcome is an idiosyncratic series, where the language of commercial photography is raised to the extreme, to reflect the tawdry consumer behaviour of modern-day China. Furthermore, the pictures deal with the viewer's attitude towards expectation or disappointment, by highlighting new, alienated contexts, which open themselves up to free, associative interpretations.
Xiaopeng Yuan– Campaign Child 48 pages, 25 colur pictures, 21.3 x 27.5 cm English Loose Joints (also available as a special edition with prints)
Born in 1988, Xiaopeng Yuan lives and works in Shanghai. He studied at the Jiangxi Normal University of Fine Arts. He is co-founder of the Same Paper studio, that focusses on photo books and magazines.