Photosensitive is a monthly RADII column that focuses on Chinese photographers who are documenting modern trends, the youth and society in China.
When he lost access to his Instagram account last summer, Yin Pengfei’s bio read “Photographer?”
With his new account recently approved, he finally dropped the question mark. But his hesitation was grounded in the fact that he only began shooting in 2018. Nevertheless, his work has quickly grabbed the attention of underground designers, and he’s landed several jobs in fashion photography.
It’s outside of the realm of fashion, however, that the 25-year-old Jiangsu-born, Shanghai-based photographer unleashes his creativity. In the photographic project Shootmyself, Yin turns the camera on himself, musing on his own experiences to create a satirical portrayal of (his) life.
“This is like my personal ‘selfie’ project,” Yin says. “The starting point is my life experience. I support my photos with logic, but this logic makes sense only to me — it’s a story about me.” He believes that only by stepping into the picture can he fully convey this idea. So he sets up everything alone, fixes the camera on a tripod, tests the composition of the picture he is about to take, and then shoots with a remote control while he’s inside the frame.
Shootmyself is divided into different series, or “volumes,” as Yin refers to them them. In Volume 2, Live With My Lover, he portrays his routine with the person he is with the most — himself. With his duplicate, he stages a couple’s domestic routine through activities such as watching television and eating breakfast. There’s a playful juxtaposition of the room’s kitschy patterns with the stylish outfits that both Yins wear. Everything else is torpor, as the twin couple barely engage with each other.
The idea came to him on May 20 (one of China’s numerous days for lovers), as he watched everyone celebrating with their partners while he was on his own. He wasn’t completely alone, though. “Since I am the only one living with me all the time. I am my lover,” he says.
In volume 3, called Be a Big Eater, Yin wears formal clothes, portraying himself luxuriating with different types of food. The series emphasizes the lethargic aftereffect of overeating, with Yin joking, “I hope this motionless sitcom series shows everyone how to eat well.”
The series was inspired by the viral and questionable audiovisual trend of Mukbang, or live eating, which comprises hosts broadcasting themselves eating large quantities of food — just for the sake of it. While in forced quarantine last year, Yin inadvertently became obsessed with Mukbang videos. They left him stunned, envious, fascinated.
These people have no self-image concerns. Vulgarity and elegance coexist. Is it all real or fake? Do they do it to satisfy themselves or to entertain others? As we dive into this virtual madness, we see ourselves in them.
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In Volume 4, Guoqiang Bathhouse, Yin recreates the public bath that he frequented as a child with his father and grandfather. He shoots himself lazing around in the different pools and rooms surrounded by middle-aged men, typical patrons of a Chinese bathhouse. “It was like a home base for dads and grandpas,” he remembers. “They soaked in the baths talking about all kinds of things while we, the kids, just watched and listened to everything.”
Something in particular intrigued Yin about the bathhouse. One attendant would always give towels and help some of the men drying their backs. But he wouldn’t do it for everyone. To him, there was no clear criterion as to whom he would choose to attend. One day, Yin was chosen. He remembers feeling a profound sensation of esteem in his heart, like a secret pleasure. He reenacted the event in this series with a hilarious picture of him gazing at the camera, wiping his hair with a Louis Vuitton towel, while a man in a leather jacket rubs his back. He looks satisfied and complete.
Yin is incredibly captivating in front of the camera. With his youthful look, he seems at ease when being photographed in a pool full of half-naked elderly men, just as he is when photographing alone. It seems as if the photo is always a moment of relaxation for him.
He maintains that his images don’t have any profound meaning. He just hopes they can make people smile and nothing more. “Comedy is an accurate reflection of life, forcing us all to face reality,” he says. To similar effect, he aims to create a fantasy with his photographs, but one that accurately portrays reality.
Shootmyself is a remarkably fun series of self-portraits with a highly personal narrative. While it captures the world from Yin’s inner perspective, it also resonates with a larger audience for its nonsensical approach to life. When asked how his works represent Chinese youth, he laughs. “That’s too much pressure,” he says. “My work is a part of me. I am part of the Chinese youth. Therefore, what is in the photos is part of China.”
All images courtesy of Yin Pengfei
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