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, we engaged in a little chitchat with China Fashion on-the-go LaWo App Founder Todd Okimoto and 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.
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 coy, 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 also benefited from the fast-paced social revolution and wealth accumulation.” Li on his widely- and deeply-rooted background.
Temper Magazine and Li get down ‘n dirty
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.”
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 flaunt what they got ever since reform and openness 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.”
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 and brush-set. It constitutes infinite possibility, dreams of romantic creations and, most importantly, can blend or bend every day, in every way.
Written by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved
Images: Courtesy of Jago Li
Follow Li on Instagram!
Chinese translation by Dong Fang.
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved
After tackling Beijing for some six years where she worked for China International Publishing Group, she spent a moment in time moseying down steep alleyways and writing about their fashionable and underground features in Hong Kong.
Van Paridon most recently managed to claw her way through a Europe-based academic endeavor called "Journalism". 'Tis in such fashion that she has now turned her lust for China Fashion/ Lifestyle and Underground into a full time occupation.
Van Paridon hunts down the latest in Chinese menswear, women’s clothing, designer newbies, established names, changes in the nation’s street scenery, close-ups of particular trends presently at play or of historical socio-cultural value in Chinaplus a selection of budding photographers.
Paired with a deep devotion to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon holds a particular interest in the topics of androgyny, the exploration of individuality and the power that is the Key Opinion Leader (the local term for “influencers”) in contemporary China.