Tom Selmon’s Beijing Beauty

China. A very big country featuring 56 minorities and one Party line. A very traditional society which offers little to no room for, or at least frowns upon, those who do not toe the line. 

中国,一个拥有着 56 个民族的独党执政大国;一个十分传统的社会,这个社会几乎没有给那些敢于打破常规的人留下什么发展空间。

Think those women who have long bid Adieu to the prime age of 27 and still remain single (the so-called “leftover women”). Think our plain high-school Jane who doesn’t show up at her mandatory extracurricular math, English and piano lessons (and that’s just Monday) and instead opts to sneakily get out of her tracksuit uniform and chill out on a hutong rooftop. Think homosexuals in general (seen “Shock The Gay Away”, anyone?). Or think drag queens – or any man/woman who feels more comfortable dressed as the opposite sex, for that matter.

例如那些过了 27 岁黄金年龄仍旧单身的女性(又被称为“剩女”),那些逃课跑去胡同屋顶消遣的叛逆的高中生,那些同志和拉拉,还有那些喜欢变装的人。

 Chinese culture sports some of the most androgynous art forms you’ll find in the overall global cultural history. 中国的双性文化是世界文化历史中雌雄同体艺术形式的集中体现。

I’ve personally always considered these “judgmental” calls made in Chinese society to be quite ironic, especially given that some of the nation’s most prided and historical art forms, think Beijing opera (jingju), are among the most androgynous (avant-la-lettre) you can spot in global cultural history. In the particular case of opera, it is custom for male actors to take on the female leads. And they must train, mastering the elaborate makeup, words and staple opera “mannerisms” for years on end, in order to just be allowed to get up on that stage.


Tom Selmon follows and captures their voyage and outlook — both on life as in its most literal sense — on camera.Tom Selmon 用相机真实地反映了他们的生活轨迹和他们对生活的态度。

Either way, it’s usually these social “quirks” (I think using the term “outcasts” would be overly dramatic) who are the most appealing or interesting to us outsiders. Sexuality in China is a confusing and very much “alive” concept in a rapidly changing scenario that has only been conceived some three decades ago. People, especially those born after 1990, are seeking and developing their individualities, a topic which can raise questions in terms of their own gender and sexuality.

对于我们外国人来说用“奇葩”(quirks) 这个词来形容社会中的这类人更为贴切(我认为用社会“弃儿”(outcast) 一词有些过于戏剧化了)。在中国社会快速发展变化的浪潮中,“性”是一个让人觉得困惑同时又十分“活跃”的概念,中国人民的性意识也是在三十多年前才刚刚苏醒的。特别是 90 年以后出生的年轻人,他们正在努力寻找并标榜着自己的个性,其中有关性别及性方面的话题在这些年轻人是最受关注的。


Click to view slideshow.

Their journeys may at times be controversial or confusing yet always beautiful and outstanding. (You may take the latter literally.) Enter Brit Tom Selmon, documentary photographer. Selmon has chosen to swim the sometimes stormy waters of the current change in thinking about gender and sexuality among China’s 20-somethings. He follows and captures their voyage and outlook (both on life as in its most literal sense) on camera.

这些年轻人所显露出来的另类风格虽然可能备受争议,让人觉得难以理解,但他们的确展现了一种超常的美(或许你可以从字面上来理解)。在来势汹汹的潮流变化中,纪实摄影师 Tom Selmon 在用自己独特的视角拍摄记录着中国 20 多岁年轻人有关性别与性的思考。他用相机真实地反映了他们的生活轨迹和他们对生活的态度。

Keep reading for my full interview with the man himself as published in Format Magazine!

有关 Tom Selmom 的详细采访请见 Format Magazine!

Photographer Tom Selmon explains his fascination with China’s drag and queer culture.

摄影师 Tom Selmon 用他的镜头诠释着中国变装文化的独特魅力。

Sexuality and gender fluidity in China are very much “alive” concepts set within the country’s rapidly changing social landscape. British Beijing-based documentary photographer Tom Selmon is one artist keeping a close eye, literally, on China’s evolving relationship with non-binary identification.

在中国迅速变化的社会潮浪中,性与性别的不确定性成为一个十分 活跃 的概念。居住在北京的英国纪实摄影师 Tom Selmon 从艺术的角度出发密切地记录着中国雌雄同体风潮的发展演变。

Selmon follows alternative youth culture and has created an impressive body of work that explores street fashion, drag culture and the cultural context of modern-day Beijing.

Selmon 跟踪拍摄另类青年文化,从街头时尚、变装文化、到文化背景中的现代北京,他的创作充满了魔性令人着迷。

 Tom Selmon spoke to us about his move from London to Beijing and his fascination with the “individual beauty” of drag queens:

Tom Selmon 跟我们讲述了他从伦敦来到北京的经过,以及他所感受到的变装文化的 独特魅力

It may sound silly, but I just thought photography would be something I’d be rather good at. I’ve always wanted to create things, even when I was younger, and photography allows you to create something instantly.


I was previously based in London—shooting fashion, among other things. Aside from editorial undertakings, I was attempting to expand my focus and shoot different scenes in London, such as the drag and LGBT. I am gay myself and therefore the ‘bond’ or affiliation was already there.


One friend of mine, already living in Beijing, told me about everything going on there, the changes in society and I thought I’d check it out.


I discovered after arriving in Beijing, that the photographic possibilities were absolutely fantastic. So I stayed. Opposed to traditional Chinese societal norms, the generation born post-1990 are far more open, and open-minded, about the concepts of gender, sex and sexuality. Which, in turn, is great for me as a photographer who aims to document all sorts of people. For me, these Chinese post-90s certainly stand out from the massive Chinese crowds.

到北京之后我发现,北京的摄影题材实在是太吸引人了。于是我就这样住了下来。中国 90 年后出生的一代人,与中国传统社会道德理念相悖,对于性别与性方面的看法很开放。这对于我,一个想拍摄社会中不同人的摄影师来说是再好不过的题材了。我认为中国的 90 后是当之无愧的脱颖而出的一代人。

I am a photographer of people. I like to document people from all walks and scenes of life. I do especially adore male beauty, the definitions of the male. That’s probably also why I think drag queens often look striking.



When makeup touches male bone structure, I think it’s magical. I like extreme beauty as well as soft, natural beauty. It’s less of a fascination with drag, but definitely a real fascination with men.


I simply enjoy focusing on unique faces and people. Bringing out, again, their individual beauty.


Some type of gender or sexual revolution, as I’ve called it before, is taking place across the streets of Beijing. The city and its people have some kind of ‘flow’ going for them. Both gender and sexual borders are being crossed and are, in fact, slowly fading.


They are putting themselves out there. They dare to bare themselves. Which is exactly that what makes them very so attractive to my lens. It’s a kind of innate beauty for me. One that also shows in the face.







Tom Selmon’s online portfolio

点击此处查看 Tom Selmon 的在线作品

Original text and interview by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine.

Editing by Format Magazine.

Chinese translations by Li Dan of Kitayama Studio.


Syndicated from Temper Magazine

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