When Photographers Blast Off From Planet Mars : Jago Li

Pho­to­grapher Jago Li rep­res­ents the next gen­er­a­tion in fashion’s visu­al arts. A firm-yet-flex­ible gender blender, Li’s work mingles with the strong-yet-effort­less drive and the clas­sic-yet-mod­ern vibe du temps. It’s hot to trot !  

“As China is no longer a closed off country, the millennial generation embraces all the possibilities up for grabs in this wonderland. The old world is fading away — yet the new horizon is still far yonder.” Photographer Jago Li

Gender blend­ing : “Dress­ing and behav­ing in a way that blends char­ac­ter­ist­ics of both sexes” — thank you, Oxford Dic­tion­ary. By no means a new con­cept — Mar­le­ne Diet­rich, Dav­id Bowie and Tilda Swin­ton ; it truly is a tale as old as time —  there is some­thing bound­lessly intriguing about the con­cept of not being tied to the expect­a­tions of one’s sex. 

See­ing the con­cept come to life on the streets, for example in the afore­men­tioned artist­ic icons, the mod­ern take on gender blend­ing seem­ingly depicts a play “in-between the sexes” — going some­what fur­ther than the (apo­lo­gized-for) Vogue US defin­i­tion of gender-fluid­ity con­sist­ing of don­ning your boyfriend’s T out­side the liv­ing room — rather than the blatant pur­suit to copy your “sexu­al” oppos­ite. In sum, the lines between male and female dress codes is blatantly becom­ing increas­ingly blurred.

Look­ing through the China glass, espe­cially, we can hot­spot the diversity of gender cel­eb­rated across vari­ous stretches of the Middle Kingdom’s visu­al arts dat­ing back thou­sands of years. The finest and simplest example here remains that of Beijing Opera, where the men tra­di­tion­ally take on the female leads and dive into the powder box like a seasoned MAC-afi­cion­ada — no holds barred. Androch­ine, I call this age-old flex­ing of the gender muscle. 

Hel­lo again 2017, then. As Tem­per Magazine made a fea­ture-find­ing pit stop in Shang­hai, a town that has been swinging and sway­ing all ways fash­ion­ably appro­pri­ate since the roar­ing Twen­ties, and has a little chitchat with (China Fash­ion on-the-go LaWo App Founder) Todd Okimo­to, swinging in came the name “Jago Li”. A Chinese-born Scand­inavi­an-bor­rowed fash­ion pho­to­grapher ‚and cur­rent Visu­al Dir­ect­or at CIME Appar­el Lim­ited, whose back­ground alone got us all tingly with feisty fash­ion fea­ture pleas­ure. Tem­per had to have him. And so we did. 

 

When Photographers Blast Off From Planet Mars: Jago Li
When Pho­to­graph­ers Blast Off From Plan­et Mars : Jago Li
Jago Li for Emporio Armani 2012. Copy­right@Jago LI

 

 

Li, whose art con­sist­ently observes and lauds the expres­sion of indi­vidu­al­ity, in 2008 began work­ing with digit­al art, which has since become a cru­cial medi­um for his art. His visu­al soph­ist­ic­a­tion and con­cep­tu­ally under­stated-yet-pro­voc­at­ive style have been embraced by both the edit­or­i­al and advert­ising world, often applauded for their new pho­to­graph­ic explor­a­tions. One such example is that of Emporio Armani, who in 2012 com­mis­sioned Li for an edit­or­i­al series. Li has since gone on to work with renowned high-end brands such as Loewe, Kopen­ha­gen Fur, Audi and Meng­Niu Milk among­st oth­ers.

Because of his unique and (almost) shy, intro­ver­ted approach to visu­al art, his one-of-a-kind feel for fash­ion expres­sion and his mul­ti-level ways of con­vey­ing any (fash­ion) brand’s vis­ion, his works can be flipped through in sev­er­al prime­time magazines such as Vogue, Cos­mo­pol­it­an, Elle, I-Look and Harper’s Bazaar. In blend­ing pho­to­journ­al­ism with stu­dio-pho­to­graphy, Li has all along been bend­ing the exist­ing pho­to­graph­ic rule sets and con­sequently emerged on the inter­na­tion­al art scene in 2015, when his series “Bey­ond Gender” was exhib­ited across Beijing, Shang­hai and New York. He’s a Tem­per kinda fel­la, this one !

“As a Chinese-born photographer, I have struggled with the taboos and limitations, but I’ve also benefited from the fast-paced social revolution and wealth accumulation.” Li on his widely- and deeply-rooted background.

Temper and Li get down ‘n dirty : A quickie one-on-one

Tem­per : You’re com­ing in hot from… ? And what gets your China lens click­ing ? 
Li : “Appar­ently I came in from Mars, China. Two truths and one lie about myself to kick things off… I’m a humble mem­ber of the excit­ing next gen­er­a­tion of fash­ion pho­to­graph­ers ; a ser­i­ous fel­la who takes no smart-*ss non­sense ; a die-hard gender blender. When I then even­tu­ally landed on Plan­et Earth, i.e. Beijing, I decided to sur­round myself with beau­ti­ful things. Unlike oth­er boys in my age cat­egory who were look­ing and long­ing for love, fame or money, my biggest aspir­a­tion in life was… Beau­ty. Fash­ion pho­to­graphy, like a num­ber of oth­er visu­al art dir­ec­tions I was pas­sion­ate about, to me spoke in Aphrodite’s lan­guage.

As China’s no longer a closed coun­try only avail­able to out­siders through the look­ing glass, the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion embrace all pos­sib­il­it­ies up for grabs in this won­der­land. The old world is fad­ing away and while the new hori­zon is still far yon­der, this coun­try holds an unima­gin­able patience towards all the new and weird.

My mixed back­ground proved to come in pretty handy and whil­st trav­el­ing the globe, I added some Scand­inavi­an aes­thet­ics to my visu­al vocab­u­lary. I used to fool around here and there, try­ing to fig­ure out what kind of life I desired. Being an openly out­ta the closet guy and an act­ive fem­in­ist, I thus far have addressed the gender-blend con­cept in my body of work quite a bit. A young( -ish) and still emo­tion­al type of fel­la, I have devoted much of my romance into the storytelling time and time again, aim­ing to cre­ate these eyes filled with (lit­er­ally) worldly mel­an­cho­lia.”

 

When Photographers Blast Off From Planet Mars: Jago Li
When Pho­to­graph­ers Blast Off From Plan­et Mars : Jago Li
The “Glass­house” Series. Copy­right@Jago Li

 

 

Tem­per :  How has China affected your take on what is “beau­ti­ful” or “inter­est­ing”?
Li : “I con­sider my trade­mark to be the address­ing of unique­ness and con­tem­por­ary con­ven­tions set with­in the frame­work of an intro­ver­ted kind of storytelling. So, in my opin­ion : Sym­pathy con­sti­tutes beau­ty. One must be able to really feel the cap­tiv­at­ing moments, to engage in a dia­log of deep­er mean­ings first, before one can truly appre­ci­ate and embrace beau­ty. In this sense, fash­ion too is a meth­od of com­mu­nic­a­tion, con­nect­ing what resides with­in one’s inner long­ings and what’s hap­pen­ing in the extern­al world right this minute.
China has surely affected my per­cep­tion of beau­ty. As a Chinese-born pho­to­grapher, I have struggled with the taboos and lim­it­a­tions, yet also benefited from the nation’s fast-paced social revolu­tion and wealth accu­mu­la­tion. Things which were only to be found far bey­ond the ima­gin­a­tion in the (rather recent) past, have become pos­sible now. The future is now. This back­ground has given me a pro­foundly optim­ist­ic atti­tude towards life and has affected my aes­thet­ics to tre­mend­ous degrees. My work can be mel­an­cholic, silent, yet even pro­voc­at­ive, but it always seeks to praise the beau­ti­ful things in life such as peace, hope and romance.”

People have started to flaunted what they got ever since reform and openness have entered the nation. It’s just a matter of “to what DEGREE shall I flaunt it?” now.

Tem­per : Let’s talk MuuuZZZeee. And “vis­ion”.
Li : “My mother was my muse. She was the most beau­ti­ful and strong woman I’d ever seen. Unfor­tu­nately she left this world many years ago. After her depar­ture, I felt keen to pho­to­graph this type of mod­ern inde­pend­ent female fig­ures. On the oth­er hand, being the vul­ner­able little boy I really used to be, I will always carry a soft pot in my heart for those men who are not afraid to lay down their armor. A con­tem­por­ary way of deliv­er­ing this ‘mes­sage’ is simply the ‘bend that gender’ con­cept. Let boys and girls be humans. Full stop.”

 

When Photographers Blast Off From Planet Mars: Jago Li
When Pho­to­graph­ers Blast Off From Plan­et Mars : Jago Li
The “Bravery” Series. Copy­right@Jago Li

 

 

Tem­per : If you got it, flaunt it. What and who in China Fash­ion (Pho­to­graphy) stands out to your single lens reflex on the streets in terms of fash­ion, street-style, people-watch­ing, etc. ? 
Li : “I usu­ally get my inspir­a­tions from music, as I’m also some­what of a half -*ssed wan­nabe DJ. All the raw feel­ings com­ing in from the melod­ies and rhythms cre­ate dif­fer­ent plots in my mind ; all that’s left for me to do, is to visu­al­ize them. I don’t have any par­tic­u­lar Chinese pho­to­graph­ers that spring to mind, as nowadays there are so many new cool kid rook­ies in this busi­ness and most of them pos­sess a dif­fer­ent ‘some­thing spe­cial’.

People in cit­ies such as Shang­hai and Beijing have star­ted to flaunted what they got ever since reform happened and open­ness star­ted seep­ing into soci­ety. It’s just a mat­ter of ‘to what degree shall I flaunt it?’ now. I per­son­ally am not a big fan of people-watch­ing, so I don’t do street-style for the sake of street-looks ; I do it for the storytelling. Just like I always, always do.”

 

The New “Made In China” in terms of cre­ativ­ity, flam­boy­ance, soci­ety, and so on, today is a blank page. Who­ever dares define it, gets to paint it using their own col­or-pal­ate. It con­sti­tutes infin­ite pos­sib­il­ity, dreams of romantic cre­ations and, most import­antly, can blend or bend all ways. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved
Images : Courtesy of Jago Li 2017 All rights reserved
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved

 

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