A photo session with photographer 肖全 (Xiao Quan )

肖全 (Xiao Quan) is a very well known Chinese photographer, famous for his portraits of artists of all kinds since the 1980s. Now he’s in a project photographing artists all over China. When he was coming to Guangzhou, 谧子 (Mizi) from Zhile Art Space, was asked to bring to a photo session with him people she considered worth a photoshoot, and she chose me among other six artists. I accepted without hesitation because I trust her a lot and she believes in my work, even though I didn’t know anything about who the photographer was.

肖全 (Xiao Quan)

With my bad comprehension of Chinese and our mixed English I didn’t understand I should be ready at 10 am for the shoot, mistakenly thinking I was supposed to arrive at 10. So, everything was already set for the photo session at 10 am and there I arrived like a stupid diva. Fortunately Mr Xiao Quan understood my mistake and he kindly waited for me to get ready. After almost half an hour (I had to apply make up to my whole body) I went up to the roof of the building where the shooting was taking place, which offered an interesting urban view of Guangzhou with its iconic tower (The Canton Tower) and a cloudy sky as a background.

When you don’t speak Chinese (mine is still really poor), people here just get along and many things happen without much explanation, and today that was the case. It seems that the original plan was to shoot just two or three photographs of each artist and then finish, but nobody had told me anything, so as I never pose for photographs but improvise instead, I started  doing what I usually do and I improvised for almost 20 minutes. The amazing thing is they didn’t stop me, and I could even feel excitement for the shooting of my performance, with the assistants moving lights, cables and equipment around as I was moving on the space. That actually makes you feel very good, believe me.

When I finished the improvisation everybody was excited and happy, commenting and congratulating me in a very transparent way, and then Xiao Quan asked one of his assistants to take a photo with me doing some kind of Butoh together. After that, everybody else did the same. That was fun!

Once the photoshoot was over, I was invited to have a coffee with the team while they chose the best shots of the session, and they told me about their experience while watching me: Xiao Quan talked about photographing me like he knew everything about my persona, others talked about my dance like a “dance of the broken heart” because of its sadness, while others talked about the naturalness of my movement and also about the feeling of being in front of something primal or primitive. 

What can I say? I’m very surprised, and of course pleased about what happened today. The paths of some artists cross and then something happens in that crossing, like today. I might never see Xiao Quan again, or maybe it will bring more opportunities, who knows? But this, like my Butoh-ka friend Esparta Martinez said once to me, was an opportunity to create that I could not refuse.

Al photographs are copyrighted, of course.

© 肖全 2020

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