JAEZ Photography and Changing Attitudes in China’s Youth | JAEZ摄影和中国青年的态度转变
Written by (作者): Frazer Worboys
Photos by (图片来源): JAEZ Photography
Change in attitudes, especially attitudes of youth, are what brings a country forward. China’s Youth Day, which occurs on May 4th each year is the anniversary of the May 4th Movement, a prime example of what the youth can achieve when their attitudes change and they work together for a common goal. Although some of the means by which this goal – preventing the then ruling Beiyang Government from signing the Treaty of Versailles – were questionable at best, the repercussions of the movement were far reaching, creating the China we see today. Today we can again see changes in attitude of Chinese youth, changes that as a whole can benefit the nation’s use of soft?power, creating a better image for China the world over.
There has long been a push for presenting Chinese culture as modern yet still aware of its long history as one of the world’s longest continuous civilizations. To achieve this goal, CCTV stations have popped up all over the world, desperately craving to be accepted by the West by taking some customs and combining them – often haphazardly – with Chinese traditions. The problem with this method as it comes across as forced. This is unfortunate, as China has such a diverse history and culture that has stood the test of time despite the onslaught of breakneck?change following the country’s opening up. Many cities in China, Ningbo especially, are multicultural melting pots where a little bit of everything can be found. These changes has had a great influence on Chinese youth (Niánqīng), who I’d have to admit are completely awesome.
I don’t like to draw comparisons with South Korea and Japan, because I know there’s a rivalry between these two and China, but these countries have let their younger generations shape their international image and have allowed contemporary culture to mix with old traditions in a way that can be appreciated by young and old. Think Japan and there’s Hello Kitty, anime, manga, crazy styles. Think South Korea, think hip clothing styles, boy bands, K-dramas. These stereotypes may not be good or to your taste, but they’ve shaped the global identity of both countries. By following the trends of these young generations, you’re seeing the most contemporary and the future image of?a country. To look at China’s youth and see the trends they’ve created is equally interesting, because China itself is endearing, and it’s huge and unique culture (which historically shaped Korean and Japanese culture) is unfortunately not shown in the same light. This is unfortunate because as you’ll see throughout this issue of Ningbo Focus, there are so many unique humans not just in China, but in this city.
What’s this all leading to? Well, I got lucky enough to take part in a photo shoot with JAEZ Photography, a group at UNNC that’s leading the way in changing attitudes and styles of youth, and it’s through this group – arguably one of the most interesting student groups coming out of the university – that one can see the positive change taking place in contemporary China and how this example of soft power, if presented properly, can be a foot forward for the nation.
The Art of JAEZ Photography
Before becoming acquainted with JAEZ, I met one of their photographers, Monkey, through a friend. Monkey is an unassuming guy that wouldn’t strike you as the artsy type. After following him for a few weeks on WeChat, though, I saw his talent. His images were at once unique, edgy, yet still drawing upon the artist’s Chinese origins with a host of vibrant color dominant in each photo. Looking through the photos wasn’t enough for me, and I decided I had to get involved in one of the shoots.
Eventually, Monkey introduced me to the JAEZ Crew. The Crew is a self-organized, non-university affiliated society that focuses on fashion photography and design. It is organized by two lovely girls named Angelica and Judy. At first I wasn’t expecting much from an unaffiliated student group, but looking though their work I understood that?my assumptions had been misplaced.
Judy founded JAEZ as an online and offline promotional platform for fashion. The aim was simple: promote fashion, art, and culture within UNNC. Judy wants the platform to “encourage students to be creative, to chase their artistic dreams and to get in touch with other lovers of art”. JAEZ seems to be the best mannered and intentioned idea I have seen in awhile, possibly the best in China. The crew are a committed bunch. Lou and Vicklii, two photographers working for JAEZ, expressed this to me. Lou explained he loved the experience and being able to connect the Chinese and international communities, with Vicklii expressing her feelings of photography simply: “there’s nothing in my mind, Relaxation and randomness are the muse of creation and inspiration. After three photos and a cigarette, I’m in a daze.” The experience to them is more than about having something to add to the CV. There is a genuine emotion behind what they wish to accomplish. In the UK or Europe, there would most likely be some hidden agenda for someone on the team, but with JAEZ this isn’t the case.
The group regularly posts their projects and articles on WeChat, seeking to inspire students to think a little more about the fashion and art scenes on campus and in the city. They also sell original garments designed by the students involved with JAEZ. At the moment, there are six students from UNNC helping Judy and Angelica run the platform, organizing regular meetings at Starbucks and events linking students to groups and companies like Uber. They have managed to sell 8 original clothing collections, with their overall aim being to produce a community?for UNNC students to interact and talk about fashion and art culture within and outside China.
Keeping true to their word, Judy and Angelica asked me to gather some of my international friends for a new shoot. Many said no, but I was able to gather enough people for it to work. On the day of the shoot we arrived a little late, having just come from dinner, but when we arrived we were completely taken aback: a team of around 10 people were there for the project. Each person had a specific role and all were excited to get going. We felt a little bad being late, as Judy still had to do the makeup for the girls.
Nevertheless, things got going smoothly. I assumed the shoot was going to be outside in Yinzhou Park or some underground cellar. All the settings of previous shoots looked like they were shot in outer space, or at least like they’d been shot in anything but a UNNC teaching building. Low and behold, we found ourselves in a corridor not wider than 4 feet. The space wasn’t spectacular, just a simple, pristine white wall and a bunch of photographers and Judy choreographing with her iPad. It was crammed to say the least, but it added to the experience as I wasn’t?expecting to be in such a limited space. At the end of the corridor there was a single room, new, stylish table and chairs. I was wondering why we were not using this room. The feeling of “this is majorly out of our league” suddenly?faded and we were obviously more relaxed. Laughing, joking around, having fun with it. one of the internationals, Christian, instantly saw through this self envisioned facade, and pointed out that Monkey, Judy, Angelica and JAEZ have probably always done it in places like this. They’re just that good. The quality of photos is normally outstanding, and the settings are normally even better, but the realization that they did this astounded me?more. There is more than meets the eye for this group.
Taking part in the shoot, it was easy to see why their projects are indeed thought provoking explorations of contemporary culture. The shoot we took part in, titled Defamiliarization, is a great example of the group’s work. The photos consist of students from the university, both foreign exchange students and Chinese, in situations that are at once familiar and yet a piercing view of a generation in flux. Expressions are reserved, provoking, mundane. In them are examples of the acceptance of new cultural norms, yet a restriction of emotion. The lighting plays into the scenes, some more focused on the subject, more lit, while others add to the subject itself, like an homage to the?cinematography and feelings evident in the films of Kar-wai Wong and Yimou Zhang.
Yet another shoot took on a more playful theme, with girls from the university decked out in colorful outfits, multicolored wigs, surrounded by balloons. This is also a side of China, one that is playful and irrelevant, a product of changing times, uptick in standards of living, increase in cash, and a society embracing its youth.
In the photos we see a new familiarity, a new look at a distinctly Chinese experience through the eyes of the subjects. The photos are excellent and beg to be discussed by the viewer.
Changes in Perspective
The photos and the JAEZ Crew itself accurately sum up what this generation of Chinese youth is about: variety. It is rare that you have such a large number of young people – even more if you count the foreign exchange students?and expats coming in and out – in one country. The variety of people involved with a project such as this one was striking. You have people like Monkey who aren’t evident examples as someone who’s cutting edge or uber chic, but instead are super techy. Then you have people like Angelica and Judy, who completely juxtapose him, designing close and arranging them for equally playful and promiscuous photo shoots.
In the UK, its normal to know one or two people who are really into their photography. On my campus in China, I can count about 5 off the top of my head. I probably know about 3 or 4 coders too, which isn’t necessarily a normal thing to do. In Europe this vast range isn’t possible because, a) we don’t try hard enough, and b) we just don’t have a big enough population to merit such variety. One doesn’t know more than a handful of people who do exactly the same job. In China it’s a different story. There are more people doing the same job, with each of them bringing?their own unique spin on it.
Asia definitely is changing the way the world turns. Not only have Asian countries enhanced the image they show to the Western world, they’ve managed to show the world up. Recently a K-pop boy band has made it into the running to be on Time’s 100 most influential list. A Chinese singer from Shanghai is trying to make it in the States?as well. Asia is arguably cooler than hipster overrun Europe, with their fashion sense even permeating the European continent. The bomber jacket has been a staple in Asia for awhile, and now we see the likes of whatever Jenner kid is cool wearing it. Now its safe to say, with the work of JAEZ and other groups in this city, that Ningbo is a leading contributor to China’s good image around the world.
Its thanks to JAEZ Photography Studio and people like Monkey, Angelica, and Judy that people can now see how China has developed over the years not just in terms of business and economics, but in terms of lifestyle, fashion, arts, and culture. These kids may someday have to be bankers and earn money for the sake of their parent’s someday, but maybe not, as more and more people are defining themselves personally through the arts and turning it into a career. Asian culture has around the world, and its only a matter of time before this second wave of Chinese culture see come though. It may not be the image envisioned by people higher up in Chinese society, but this young generation is shaping the future of China, and its got me in a secure vice, wanting to find a way to stick?around to see how it all turns out.
JAEZ会定期在微信上推送他们的作品和文章，旨在鼓舞学生多关注校园和城市里的时尚和艺术。他们也会出售成员设计的原创服饰。目前，宁诺的六个学生帮助J u d y 和Angelica一起运营这个平台，组织在星巴克举行例会，开展在学生与公司之间建立联系的各种活动。带着为宁诺学生创建一个相互交流国内外时尚、艺术和文化的平台的目标，至今为止他们已经出售了８套原创服装。
事情还是进展得比较顺利。我原本以为他们会在鄞州公园或哪个地下室拍摄，因为之前的拍摄场景看起来都像是在室外，或者至少是在宁诺的教学楼。但我发现我们的拍摄地点原来是一个不超过四英尺宽的走廊，不但不壮观，而且只有一面简单古朴的白墙，一群摄影师和Judy的ipad编排，出乎意料的狭小局限，不过倒也不失为一种新的体验。在走廊的尽头有一个单人房，里面摆着崭新的现代风格桌椅。我在想为什么我们不用那间房呢。难以接受的感觉瞬间消退，我们都放松地说笑起来。但是，其中一位国际生Christian马上看穿了我们的自我麻醉， 指出M o n k e y 、Judy、Angelica 和 JAEZ可能一直都是在这种地方拍摄。他们就是那么优秀。照片的质量总是这么出色，场景更胜一筹，但是让我们瞠目结舌的是他们的作品是在这样的环境下拍摄的。这个团队简直让人难以置信。
To see more work from JAEZ Photography, scan the QR code | 扫描二维码查看JAEZ摄影的更多作品