Shanghai: the Bad girls
by Zhang Hai'er
When I saw Bad Girls for the first time in 1988, this kind of “creature” didn’t officially exist in China. A few of them were published under a pseudonym in the French magazine Lui, which already seemed retro with the emergence of more hardcore pornography.
I liked these bad girls immediately—and not all of them are girls—with their venomous beauty, at once sweet and unsettling, like characters from a novel or a painting. They were like the silky-skinned Asian cousins of Balthus’ heroines, but they were above all themselves, playing themselves for the photographer or for the role he assigned them.
Twenty years later, the girls haven’t aged a bit. They affect me as deeply as ever. They remain as mysterious and naughty and open as they did the first day. Girls of paper and light with carefully selected (or removed) clothing, they assert themselves but never say enough for us to figure them out. They’re self-sufficient, courageous, asserting their bodies and desires, sensuality and elegance made from little but always magnified by a sense of gesture, or bearing, of abandon mixed with a firmness of the body.
There’s something timeless about these bad girls. They instantly become emblematic figures of an idea of femininity in dialogue with the promise of eroticism. They show themselves with a fiendish delight and conceal themselves enough to arouse desire, if not lust. Shedding their names and their differences, coming face to face with what makes them unique, is like traveling through worlds which intersect without ever really coming into contact.
Between the black-and-white photographs, so characteristic of Zhang’s direct and subtle approach exploring his surroundings at the time and the most pictorial color compositions, he weaves a mental world full of beauties. Their beauty is misleading in some ways, because they are, above all, a photographic illusion, a portrait that refuses and gives in, evidence and frustration, dependence on the real and absence of materiality.
Perhaps it’s all this that made me love these bad girls, who suddenly became good ones. In any case that’s what makes me love them still, perhaps more lucidly.
Portraits de nus
Until April 15, 2014
Beaugeste Photo Gallery