Beneath the skin

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-10 18:13:01

Young artist deconstructs the male gaze through female nudes

Photo by photographer 9mouth (on piano), currently on display at the Being 3 Gallery Photos: Courtesy of 9mouth



Photos by photographer 9mouth (Bottom on piano), currently on display at the Being 3 Gallery Photos: Courtesy of 9mouth

At the same time a photographer is stirring waves of controversy in China after taking nude photos at the Palace Museum in Beijing, photographer 9mouth (Cao Chao) is quietly holding a solo exhibition at the Capital's Being 3 Gallery, a low key event that keeps his works, also featuring nude models, immune from the chaos going on outside.

Having dedicated himself to nude photography for the past five years, the popular yet seemingly timid 1988-born artist has received tons of praise, and criticism as well, for his work. While most people would assume that male viewers would enjoy looking at photos of nude women, the displayed bare breasts and revealed vaginas have earned the artist more than a little criticism. 

"Because they don't think the pictures look beautiful. Of course. I'm not shooting photos to meet their aesthetic interests," 9mouth told the Global Times. "Rather, these photos are meant to deconstruct males' consumption of women's bodies."

A frank display 

A bare-breasted woman licking a flower; two nude women sit hugging each other as one pretends to play the other like a cello.

Named Releasing Wind, the exhibition boasts photos from 9mouth's Menstrual series that he has taken over the past four years. Only seven large copies of 9mouth's works are hung on the wall. However, you don't have to worry about this small number, as across the hall there are four big tables all covered with small photos to make up for the lack of large pictures. 

Examining them closely, as the size of the pictures demand you to, you will find the photos pressed under glass on the tables are more typical of 9mouth's work. The photos there are bolder and blunter. Bare vaginal orifices, a lollipop placed in front of a vagina and so on. In a sense, the 120 small photos are actually the main window into 9mounth's artistic style.

Although nude photography is entering more and more into the public sight in China, it remains a field that is easily criticized. 9mouth has also encountered many doubters who say that he's merely trying to use nudity to attract attention, but these accusations have not deterred his persistence at all.

To him, shooting the female form is simply art driven by his desire to record the beauty of women's bodies, and through this reveal their desires and souls.

"Many people can only see sex and lust, but these photos are not about that. Only by going deep enough can you see beyond sex and just see the body itself and its beauty," 9mouth said.

Brief relationship

To date, 9mouth has taken photos of more than 150 women and won a number of prizes for his photography. Graduating from an engineering major, he used to write novels and work in a bookstore to get by before he turned to photography by chance.

9mouth's photographic career started when his ex-girlfriend left him a camera after going abroad. During the first two years, he only took pictures of the things and people in his life, but then, tired of these featureless works, he decided to shoot a series based on a theme.

"It was a year-end plan for 2011. I thought for long time about the theme and then decided to shoot what I really like. And as a man, it is my nature to like women. So I started to shoot women," 9mouth said.

He began with friends, at first his works were not really nude, instead featuring women wearing almost nothing, until one day when both the model and himself felt unsatisfied with what they had shot and wanted to try a nude picture.

"Then it started. Many times it was not me who decided to shoot a nude photo, but the models, who like nudity. Gradually, many women came to me because they knew I shoot nudes," 9mouth explained, adding that women today are becoming more open and self-aware.

Unlike the models in most photographs who possess delicate faces and perfect figures, 9mouth's models are mostly ordinary women that look like people you see everyday.

"I never tried to shoot beauties in a general sense. I feel the beautiful looks seen in fashion magazines are revolting. They are images resulting from the consumption of women. So even if a model is far from what you find in magazines, I still think she's pretty and will try to present her beautiful side," said 9mouth.

 "To me, a woman's beauty lies in her confidence and self-awareness."

Not trying to conceal his love for women, this young man with a stable girlfriend explained that he sees every photo shoot with a model as a relationship.

"I fall in love with them, though I'm not sure whether I'm attracted by the woman herself or the one I'm shooting or the one that eventually appears in the photo," 9mouth said, smiling shyly. "I'm confused still. But the love is very short and it disappears as soon as I finish."

Deconstruction of desire

By shooting nudes, 9mouth's hope is to deconstruct the male consumption of women's bodies.

"In a male-dominated society, women's bodies are their biggest bargaining chip and so they have to prevent it from being exposed. For men, seeing a woman nude for free usually makes them feel like they won the jackpot," 9mouth said.

"By exposing women's bodies and thus making them valueless, I hope men will gradually no longer feel this way. So through these nude bodies I'm attempting to erase this sense of consumption when it comes to women's bodies."

Most of 9mouth's photos are taken in rather private places, like models' homes. Even in his series featuring exterior locations, he takes photos at night when there's nobody around. "I focus on the relationship between people and the city they dwell in, instead of aiming to create a contrast between models and location [like the photographer at the Palace Museum] for visual impact," noted 9mouth.

For his next project, he is focusing on comparing the appearance of women's genitals before and after shaving. He's noticed that many women have never seen their privates and people currently know nothing about women's genitals and are even prejudiced against them.

"I hope to eliminate misunderstandings about them," said 9mouth.

Posted in: Photography

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