Alex Huanfa Cheng is a Chinese photographer now based in Paris whose work focuses on fashion, bodies and Asian representation.
How has your lived experience shaped your practice?
I was born in a small village in Hubei, China, where life is very conservative and poor. I completed my undergraduate studies in Beijing. In 2012, I came to France to study contemporary art and decided to stay for work and life. The contrast between the cultural and living environments has given me a strong experience. Therefore, I am very interested in both the broad and narrow sense of politics. I also incorporate political elements to a greater or lesser extent in my personal work and fashion photography: feminism, aesthetic equality, multiculturalism, stereotypes, racial indifference, and so on.
What are some of your biggest influences and motivations in your work? What issues are you passionate about working on?
I often focus on discussions of political and economic issues. Asian photographers living in Western countries and gaining recognition are quite rare. Asian photographers who are accepted by the Western culture and fashion circles are mostly local photographers in Asia with an exotic style. In the context of mainstream Western culture, how an Asian photographer views contemporary life with a modern perspective, especially in the presentation of their own contemporary Asian culture, is an important yet scarce aspect of current culture. I hope that as an Asian living in Europe and America, I can make more voices heard.
People often say that discussing too much politics in a work affects its timelessness. However, my preference is: no politics, no joy.
Can you tell us more about your focus on fashion and the celebration of bodies your work?
The body presents important information about a person, and fashion and clothing are the most direct carriers of culture. My work needs to tell personal, cultural, and especially Asian cultural stories through these pieces of information and carriers. Behind this, there are also many rich political issues worth discussing, such as feminism, intimate personal stories, contemporary Asian aesthetics, racial indifference, and cultural integration, among others. I tend to use a more accessible and positive presentation method, subtly incorporating these issues into the images.
My two main projects right now are a series of intimate photographs of my partner and a series about the Asian community in France. In fashion, I also try to present more fashion stories about Asian culture within the mainstream European and American fashion circles.
Where are you based and what excites you about the creative community around you?
I live in Paris, where the open and diverse cultural environment excites me. The art photography and fashion photography industries have high ceilings, and creativity is very free. However, in Europe, the Asian cultural community is still in its infancy, and industries such as media, photography, film, and entertainment lack Asian representation. But I’ve noticed that since the COVID pandemic, the younger generation of Asians has started to consciously make their voices heard. As a part of this group, I look forward to making Europe’s cultural scene more diverse.
See more of Alex’s work HERE