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Photographer Tian Liu: Vision Without Borders

"To me, fashion is life. It is not something floating around up in the air, but rather something solidly down to earth. I pay close attention to whatever goes on in my life and will use my camera to tell the story. My story." Photographer Tian Liu 

The term “photography” literally translates as “writing with light”. The sound of the shutter is the ultimate merger of vision and emotion – residing both in front of as well as behind the lens. The Temper mirror pops up and faces snapper Tian Liu as we deliberate pleasures from an unchangeable past, anxiety in the urban present and baptizing the memory of a mysterious future.

The Tian Liu Portfolio
The Tian Liu Portfolio. Courtesy of Vogue Italia

Emotion ɪˈməʊʃ(ə)n/

  • NOUN, a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

 
Monochrome Tides. Courtesy of Tian Liu
Monochrome Tides. Courtesy of Tian Liu

Signs Of The Times

A camera’s reflection of an instant’s light has the power to reflect the state of one human being or one sweeping society.  An unparalleled storyteller, a photoshoot can on the one hand take much planning and concept-storyboarding to convey an artist’s creative — or picture-esque — vision, whereas the impromptu images often go down in history as the iconic funnels of true human emotion in a particular social climate. Just think Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square photograph portraying a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger or the picture of an unidentified man standing in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989. They’re signs of the times.

Love, emotion, and so the Enigma lyrics go, U.S.-based Chinese photographer Tian Liu knows a thing or two about the sentimental side of mankind – all in the name of and the love for photography. The childhood memory of one waving ray of red light tearing through the deep darkness of the room sparked an interest in the field of photography — one that would determine Liu’s adulthood and the course of life overall. Seduced by the “particular” smell of developing solution — a mixture of thioic acid and acid salt — Liu’s hands held her very first Ricoh film camera when she was only seven years old. From dark room fumes, a burning enthusiasm was born and photography gradually became the absolute way to record her growing footprint on this Earth.

“My individual memories consist of the time and objectives simmering behind the shots, filtered by my growing life experience and reading scale.” Photographer Tian Liu

Colorful Linings. Courtesy of Tian Liu
Colorful Linings. Courtesy of Tian Liu

The Temper X Tian Times

How does one merge fashion and visualization? Hailing Wong Kar-wai’s cinematic oeuvre as the sans pareil expression of China Fashion in the 21st century, Liu has passed the Temper tryouts with flying colors. We’re in the mood for love, so take it away!

Temper: Getting started. 

Liu: As a student majoring in journalism, years of professional study merely formed the cradle of my photographing passion. As an undergraduate, I worked both as a reporter as well as a free “composer” at CCTV, China Net and Young Press Corps, respectively. These stints gave me the opportunity to visit Africa, Hong Kong and Taiwan; all int the pursuit of further “perfecting” my photographic composition. Subsequently, my individual memories consist of the time and objectives simmering behind my photos, filtered by my own growing life experience and reading scale. I believe this is the charm of photography. Deeply moved by the pleasures both from my past work and journeys, I always consider photography a magically mysterious science that can take my body — as the carrier of my soul — into the unknown realms of time and space, realms in which I will never cease to look for new breakthroughs in my self-consciousness.

Temper: The love of your life.

Liu: In meshing pieces of the past with predictions of the future, I — as a photographer — experience rebirth on a continuous loop. In other words, “photography” equals “rebirth”, even more so given one photo never puts a lock on the past tense, but rather redefines time in itself. For example, the weak interpersonal communication among urban people in my opinion stems from a sense of feeling empty because none of us can escape from the worries of an unchangeable past, an anxious present or the enigma that is the future. However, photography can provide us with the ultimate means to immerse ourselves in our memories and from thereon out reconfigure time, i.e. use the present to predict our future. Hence, I love photography. She is the love of my life.

“Before a shoot, I like to visit museums or galleries; or book stores. I’ll always be inspired by other people’s art.” Liu

Azure Waves. Courtesy of Tian Liu
Azure Waves. Courtesy of Tian Liu

 

Temper: The Process Of Creating. 

Liu: A fruitful collaboration means setting goals that we can actually achieve. If I collaborate with an amazing designer or makeup artist or hair stylist or model, and so the list goes on, I will make sure we have some shared goals and interests and we all want to, well, go all out! For example, I now have 26 photographs published on Vogue Italia, but I want more of my photography to be published plus I also want to get my fashion films out there! Consequently, once the people I’m working with like this particular goal, we will just go nuts with it. Sometimes you can work with designers or stylists who also have that desire to submit their work to additional magazines and this convergence of common ambition in one project is always wonderful to have. In these instances, we will spend more time prepping for the shoot, i.e. sit down together, come up with a bespoke story-line, create mood-boards,… Sharing the love!

“When I take a picture using window light, I always think about what a long trip the light is making to reach my subject.” Paolo Roversi

Tian Liu: Monochrome
Monochrome. Courtesy of Tian Liu

 

Temper: The Ethics of Creating. 

Liu: Photographers bear a cultural responsibility. What’s more, I’m a firm believer in the social responsibility one artist holds. From the perspective of civilization, an artist should be held responsible for social and cultural advancement, if you will. Aside from centering around society, art obviously can be a very personal thing too; there is no right or wrong turn to take. In short, it is up to the world to determine what really is “art”. Put in Mencius’ terms, when you are unsuccessful, you will have to manage your own moral self-cultivation. When you are on a roll, you must try and let it be known to people all across the globe that they too can benefit from your rise on the socio-economic/… ladder. I think it is exactly because of this social responsibility, an artist’s body of work can attain a new level of pure-ness and change people’s lives for the better!

Vision ˈvɪʒ(ə)n/

  • NOUN, the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
Green, green grapes of home. Courtesy of Tian Liu
Green, green grapes of home. Courtesy of Tian Liu

The Passing Of Time

Temper: Influencers and inspirations.

Liu: Paolo Roversi is of great inspiration to me. He taught me to broaden my horizons and study my subject matter of interest.  “For me, light is life – and the first light that I see, is the sun”, and I hereby quote Roversi, “So when I think about light, I think about the sun and nothing else. Window light is the most important light for me. When I take a picture using window light, I always think about what a long trip the light is making to reach my subject.” [Writing with light, people, writing with light]

His works, with their staple refinement and sensitivity, romanticism, fragility, depict the supernatural, magical and light-full beauty of women. I also feel his pictures show really strong emotion which makes them even more beautiful and touching. The No.1 emotion that I can feel coming from his photography is love. The love between women and men, the love between men and men, the love between two women…  That has influenced me to great extent.

Temper: Likes and dislikes.

Liu: I don’t like people using wide aperture and turning a woman’s skin into excccessive shades of pale — i.e. snowy white.

I like for things to look natural, to look real. I always true to what my gut tells me is right.

The light of Africa. Courtesy of Tian Liu for Vogue Italia
The light of Africa. Courtesy of Tian Liu for Vogue Italia

Temper: The rise of China’s 80后 and 90后 Art. What’s the ultimate message?

Liu: I myself am 90后.  As I have shot quite a few documentaries and news items in the past, I now want to shift my focus to “the female portrait”, i.e. showcasing the feminine side of powerful women. They are beautiful, powerful and sexy.

 

 

Vision and emotion know no limits — whether it be on stage or behind the scenes. In using the wise words by Roversi himself one last time, “Photography goes beyond the limits of reality and illusion. Every photograph is an encounter, an intimate, reciprocal confession.” And a work of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All images come courtesy of Photographer Tian Liu.
Copyright@Temper Magazine, 2017. All rights reserved