HONG KONG (AP) – A renowned Chinese fashion photographer apologized for her earlier work after online critics called her an insult to the Chinese people and Dior fashion house removed one of her photos from a show in Shanghai.
Chen Man recognized the criticism of her earlier work, including “Young Pioneers,” a series of images of a young model against the backdrop of major landmarks such as China’s massive Three Gorges Dam or a picture of the country’s first lunar orbiter flying out from below your dress.
The criticism was reported by the state-run newspaper Global Times, which said comments on social media described their work as “implicit child pornography and insults to young pioneers,” the name of a Communist Party-affiliated youth organization.
“I thought about it deeply and accused myself of my naivety and ignorance at the time. I think I have to formally apologize to everyone anyway, ”Chen wrote on her social media account this week.
“I am a Chinese, born and raised, I love my country deeply,” she wrote. “And I know deeply that, as an artist, I have a responsibility for the mission to record and disseminate the culture of the Chinese people.”
She joins numerous Chinese and overseas celebrities, brands and artists who have publicly apologized after criticizing their work in state media. Some were boycotted because they refused to apologize or when the apology was deemed inadequate.
Chen’s apology came more than a week after Dior was attacked over the photo in his Shanghai exhibition of a model of Asian descent with tanned, freckled skin and dark eyelids holding a Dior wallet.
Critics deemed the photo to be inconsistent with East Asian beauty standards for fair skin, saying it defended Western stereotypes of Asian faces such as slanting eyes.
At least one picture editor has praised her work in the past for creating an aesthetic that is not mimicked by Western, Japanese or South Korean magazines. And in 2019, the Global Times named Chen China’s answer to US 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 the Chinese” and “strictly adheres to Chinese laws and regulations”.
Other luxury brands were previously embroiled in controversy in China. In 2018, a Dolce & Gabbana ad sparked public outrage after the ad instructed the Asian model to eat spaghetti, cannolis, and pizza with a pair of chopsticks. The videos were later removed.
Chen’s social media post said she would accept criticism of her work, including that for a particular brand, but didn’t name Dior.
The photo from the Shanghai exhibition was taken in a style similar to a series of covers that Chen took for British fashion magazine iD, showing 12 young Chinese women from various ethnic minorities. Many of the women did not fit what has become a common definition of beauty in China – some had small eyes and some had freckles.
Ding Yining, a picture editor at Sixth Tone, praised Chen’s work in a 2018 article for the government-sponsored English-language website with features.
“From her work, it appears that Chen prefers female models with narrow, one-sided eyes and a sense of traditional East Asian elegance,” wrote Ding.
Chen told Sixth Tone, “As a professional visual artist, I believe I should help more people see the face of modern Chinese beauty with greater confidence.”
Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.