Chinese Photographer’s “Portraits of the Self-Inflicted”

Reflection of woman's face in mirror
Reflection of woman’s face in mirror

Born in Beijing, China, Zhe Chen is a fine art photographer who has investigated and documented the self-inflicted activities of herself and others.

Dirty ashtray on white bedsheets
Dirty ashtray on white bedsheets

While growing up in Beijing, Zhe started scarring her flesh while in high school. She then ran away and took refuge at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California where she studied photography.

Close-up of woman's face
Close-up of woman’s face

Before she even turned 22, Zhe’s work attracted the attention of the Magnum Foundation and she was granted the Inge Morath Award for her second photography project entitled “Bees”.

Woman with bandaged arm holding fruit. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman with bandaged arm holding fruit. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

In “Bees”, Zhe’s purpose was to record marginalized people in China, who, faced with chaos, violence, and alienation, feel compelled to leave self-inflicted physical traces and markings on their bodies.

Nude woman with burn marks on legs. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Nude woman with burn marks on legs. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Zhe found those she calls “Bees” by first showing them her own scars. This connection with their situation encouraged her subjects to be totally unselfconscious in front of her camera.

Woman behind dirty window. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman behind dirty window. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Currently living in Los Angeles, Zhe continues documenting her self-inflicted activities, while creating a series of projects focusing on body modification, human hair, post-traumatic stress disorder, identity confusion and memory.

Woman with long scar on her back. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman with long scar on her back. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Zhe holds a BFA in Photography & Imaging from Art Center College of Design.

Author: Kana Kukui

Part Asian/part Western, and having lived almost my entire life in Asia, photography, particularly photography in Asia, has been a major interest in both my personal and professional life. Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a huge pool of talented photographers in Asia that generally goes unnoticed outside their local country. I’ve also found that there is a great interest in Asia by photographers based outside the region. The purpose of this site, and my Twitter (@KanaKukui) is simple: 1) to share some insights about photography in Asia – introducing talented photographers shooting in Asia, and subjects and locations to shoot in the region. And 2) to provide a little inspiration to everyone interested in photography – from the hobbyist to the emerging professional.

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