Luo Yang was born in the 80s in Liaoning, China, currently lives in Beijing and Shanghai. As a photographer, she’s been placing her focus on women from different generations and backgrounds in contemporary China, depicting an emerging Chinese youth culture that defies imposed expectations and stereotypes. Solo shows in Paris, Berlin, Austria, Hong Kong and Bangkok have since contributed to her international recognition and she’s been widely covered by western media. She was selected as one of BBC’s “100 WOMEN” in 2018, shortlisted for C /O Berlin Talent Award in 2019, and a winner of Jimei · Arles women photographers award 2019.
Luo Yang’s main project “Girls”, has revealed a part of contemporary China that is rarely taken note of in the West. Her portraits depict an emerging Chinese youth culture that defies imposed expectations and stereotypes: “Girls” are badass and self-aware with a supreme sense of cool, yet also insecure, vulnerable and torn. Underlying tensions and ambivalent emotions lend friction to Luo’s images and deny a conclusive reading. Above all, her work is a testament to her subject’s individuality. It explores themes of youth and femininity while challenging traditional beliefs about Chinese women. “Girls” thus also reflect a shifting mindset with regard to concepts of femininity and identity in modern China.
« Ba ling hou » (born after 80): this idiom refers to the first generation born under the one-child policy and during the reform and opening up led by Deng Xiaoping after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). These are young people who grew up in a world which they were the center of, with Internet and social media, in a consumer society in total rupture with the preceding generations. Luo Yang belongs to this generation. Her portraits depict an emerging Chinese youth culture that defies imposed expectations and stereotypes. Her work is a testament to her subjects’ individuality and personality. Femininity, gender, identity: she reflects the deep changes taking place in China today.
In 2007, at the age of 23, she started the series Girls, which brought Luo Yang international recognition from Berlin to Hong Kong and Bangkok. Over the course of ten years, Luo Yang followed her friends, recording changes to their bodies and their lives over the course of several years. This meant observing and capturing their delicate transition from adolescence to adulthood. It is as if the photographer held a mirror to her own growth and evolution alongside that of her models, to capture their (her) emotions as young woman. An intimate vision of femininity, challenging traditional representations of Chinese women in a social context which is still rather conservative.
Luo Yang is now in her 30s, and she is captivated by both boys and girls, post-teenagers and young adults. Since 2019, in her new series Youth, she shifts her focus to younger generations, and explores through them the changes of a Chinese society now globalized and whose mutation has reached a new scale. Born in the 1990s and early 2000s, her models belong to the urban cool, they are seemingly well anchored in the times yet sit in opposition to mainstream currents vibrating through young Chinese society today.
Using film, Luo Yang shoots these atypical characters of Chinese society with due sensitivity, working on “documenting” a generation she meets daily, of whom she says it is her duty to preserve a photographic trace. This is a pioneering generation, more “sex, and rock’n’roll” than “K-pop”, in contrast with the ultra sophisticated and sanitized image conveyed by the pop stars adored by young people in China today. With their tattoos, hair with different colors, and flamboyant looks, those in front of the camera – musicians, artists, bloggers, friends or strangers, sometimes met online, who often become close to the photographer – are very self-conscious of their appearance. Yet nothing is quite fit for purpose for Luo Yang. Behind every portrait, we feel the invisible and peculiar stories: young adults already mature beyond their childish appearance, and those who act like the children they still are. Boys who defy the social code with their disturbing fragility, girls who proudly display their androgyny, couples in love.