A renowned Chinese fashion photographer has apologized for her previous work after online critics called it offensive to the Chinese people and fashion house Dior removed one of her photos from a show in Shanghai.
Chen Man acknowledged criticism of her earlier work, including “Young Pioneers,” a series of images of a young model set against major landmarks such as China’s massive Three Gorges Dam or depicting the country’s first lunar orbiter flying from the background. her dress flies out from below.
The criticism was reported by the state-owned company Global times newspaper, which said comments on social media had called her work “implicit child pornography and insulting the young pioneers,” the name of a Communist Party-affiliated youth organization.
“I thought deeply and blamed myself for my naivety and ignorance at the time. I think I still have to formally apologize to everyone,” Chen wrote on her social media account this week.
“I am Chinese, born and raised, I love my motherland very much,” she wrote. “And I deeply know that as an artist I have a responsibility to the mission of capturing and disseminating the culture of the Chinese people.”
.@DiorThe move to remove the work of local photographer Chen Man as part of his art exhibition (because certain internet users are offended by the way it is not in line with their beauty standards) further showed: the output of every foreign brand will be reviewed and researched by the masses in China. pic.twitter.com/nxGjGEZ7IJ
— Yaling Jiang (@yaling_jiang) November 24, 2021
She joins numerous Chinese and foreign celebrities, brands and artists who have publicly apologized after being criticized for their work in the state media. Some have been boycotted for refusing to apologize or if the apology was deemed insufficient.
Chen’s apology came more than a week after Dior was attacked for the photo at his exhibition in Shanghai, which showed a model of Asian descent with tanned, freckled skin and dark eyelids holding a Dior bag.
Critics found the photo inconsistent with East Asian fair-skinned beauty standards and said it perpetuated Western stereotypes of Asian faces, such as slanted eyes.
At least one photo editor has in the past praised her work for creating an aesthetic that aspired to neither Western magazines nor Japanese and South Korean magazines. And in 2019, the Global times described Chen as China’s answer to American photographer Annie Leibovitz, calling her a “shining star” with a unique perspective.
Dior removed the photo, adding that it was part of an art project and not an advertisement. In a statement on its Chinese social media account, Dior said it “respects the feelings of Chinese people” and “strictly adheres to Chinese laws and regulations”.
Other luxury brands have previously been embroiled in controversy in China. In 2018, a Dolce & Gabbana ad sparked public outcry after the Asian model was ordered to eat spaghetti, cannolis and pizza with a pair of chopsticks in the ad. The videos were later removed.
Chen’s social media post said she accepted criticism of her work, including that for a particular brand, but did not specify Dior.
The photo taken from the exhibition in Shanghai is made in a similar style to a series of covers Chen did for the British fashion magazine ID card with 12 young Chinese women from different ethnic minorities. Many of the women fell short of what has become a common definition of beauty in China – some had small eyes and others had freckles.
Ding Yining, a photo editor at sixth tone, praised Chen’s work in a 2018 article for the state-sponsored English-language features website.
“From her works, it seems Chen prefers narrow-eyed, single-eyelid female models with a sense of traditional East Asian elegance,” Ding wrote.
Chen told sixth tone that “as a professional visual artist, I believe I should help more people recognize the face of modern Chinese beauty with more confidence.”