Zhang Haier: Les filles
Zhang Hai’er is one of today’s most important Chinese photographers. His early work offers a unique picture of the underbelly of his country’s cities in the 1980s and 90s: Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong. His best-known photographs, however, are portraits of women: prostitutes, his wife, friends, anonymous subjects. Women he looks at with a clear sexual fascination. Yet the gaze is two-directional: the women are complicit in the privileged relationship that arises between model and photographer; they return his gaze, boldly and provocatively. In this way, Les Filles testifies to a clearly defined era in China: the young women in the portraits struggle with the strict, moralistic society in which they are living. Looking into Zhang Hai’er’s lens becomes of an act of resistance for them. ‘These girls were called “bad”‘, Zhang Hai’er says, ‘but what’s bad about them? I love their character, the energy they radiate. To me, they are beautiful, real women.’
Zhang Hai’er has had solo exhibitions at the Shanghai Center of Photography (2017), Fotografisk (Denmark, 1995) and the Musée d’Elysée (Lausanne, 1993). His work can be found in the collections of Danielle Mitterrand (Paris), M+ Museum (Hong Kong), Musée d’Elysée (Lausanne), Shanghai Center of Photography (Shanghai), Three Shadows (Beijing), Walther Collection (US) and White Rabbit (Australia).