Hotly-debated photographer thrusts traditional Han-style beauty into the spotlight

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-16 19:03:01

Photos from photographer Dangxiaoshi's Travel with Hanfu series Photos: Courtesy of Dangxiaoshi 
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If you frequent social media in China, you may have noticed a series of photos spreading everywhere recently: A young woman dressed in a white hanfu (traditional Chinese clothing) posing at Wat Rong Khun (also known as White Temple) in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Wearing traditional makeup with a white foundation and red eye shadow, she looks like some sort of ice queen.

The photos were posted on photographer Dangxiaoshi's Sina Weibo last Wednesday as the third part of her Travel with Hanfu series, which records the photographer and her model Xizi's (Yao Xuan) trip to Thailand in August.

Disputed beauty

Most of the comments on the photos revolved around the young woman's beauty and how well the traditional white Chinese clothing harmonized with the architecture of the White Temple, but on Monday the owner and designer of the "contemporary, unconventional and privately owned" White Temple expressed his dissatisfaction about the pictures.

Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat posted a video through a local TV station saying that while he doesn't take issue with most of the photos taken at the temple, a photo of the woman seductively laying on a bench made him angry because they didn't fit with the design of his temple.

"Many photographers come to the White Temple to take photos and most of their photos are very beautiful. The hanfu photos have been very popular so far and I am benefiting from them since the culture of our country being promoted and more people around the world will know that there is such a beautiful place in Thailand. I won't try and stop the photos as it involves the honor of our country, but please don't commit blasphemy against our artwork and religion. Don't negatively impact the sacred things that we respect," Kositpipat said in the video.

Dangxiaoshi explained to the Global Times that the entire photo shoot took place during a very short visit that was only about 10 minutes long and that the bench the model was lying on was normally used by visitors to change their shoes.

"It was very crowded. A lot of people were waiting, so we didn't have much time to take photos."

In response to Kositpipat, Dangxiaoshi said that she didn't understand why the owner was angry with that particular photo, "but as the owner of the temple, I understand he has the right to be dissatisfied with our work."

A happy accident

The 27-year-old photographer majored in computers at university and worked as a game designer after graduation. She later discovered her love for fine art and photography and gradually transitioned to a career as a professional freelance photographer. Studying makeup and clothing, she began traveling around China taking photos, earning money to keep traveling by taking photo jobs from clients she met along the way.

Although now famous for her Travel with Hanfu series, the project actually started out in 2014 as something of an accident.

"[My friend] Miqiu asked me to shoot some wedding photos in Nepal. I suggested that they shoot a series of photos wearing hanfu. We spent most of our time taking photos at twilight during what was a 10-day trip."

After they came back, Dangxiaoshi discovered her hanfu photos had become very popular online. Dangxiaoshi and her friend decided to make Japan their next stop.

"We soon agreed to make this a series. Since I always dreamed about traveling the world, taking these hanfu photos was a great opportunity. If I could create some art while playing overseas, why not?" Dangxiaoshi said.

They posted a message on Sina Weibo asking if anyone wanted to come along. Of the two women who responded, one was actress Xu Jiao, who starred in Stephen Chow's CJ7 and made a splash at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2013 by wearing hanfu on the red carpet.

Their photos from Japan went viral in March of this year. They were warmly received although some Chinese netizens pointed out that it may have been a bit disrespectful to take hanfu photos at the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto.

"I don't think so. When we were taking photos there, the local Japanese found our dresses very beautiful and asked what we were wearing. With pride, we told them we were wearing the traditional clothing of our ethnic group."

Dangxiaoshi explained that she doesn't see herself as a hanfu expert. "I prefer to call myself a photographer. Most of the time, I consider the layout of my photos and how to make sure they look good. I've been criticized by some hanfu scholars for matching different types of hanfu together and some have complained that I have models show off their shoulders and legs. But I want to make sure the artistic and aesthetic elements in my photos come first."

Earning money for tuition through her photography, Dangxiaoshi will begin studying photography at the Beijing Film Academy this month. Although this means she will be too busy to accept the many offers for work she has received since rising to fame, she is still not done with her series.

"The Travel with Hanfu series will go on and my next stop will be the US in December," she told the Global Times.

Newspaper headline: Traveling with style

Posted in: Photography

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