It has been eight years now since Chinese photographer Li Hui started trying to express her feelings through her sensitive personality. Mostly influenced by cinema, music, nature and human body, this photographer keeps learning by experimenting the ideas that cross her mind. Her mastery with light and her instantly recognizable style make it hard to believe that she’s a self-taught artist. For that reason, we spoke with her about her breathtaking double exposure works and the path she’s followed until creating them.
Li, tell us more about yourself and your background.
I’m a Chinese photographer who enjoys movies, music and venturing into nature. I got into photography about eight years ago, and I’ve been experimenting and learning ever since.
What pushed you to get into photography? And what does fascinate you about it?
When I got my first film camera, I basically considered taking pictures to be just another hobby. As I mostly use visual memory to remember things, I noticed that photography has a positive influence on me. I found it’s the easiest way to realize all the ideas floating around my mind. Then, I regularly uploaded photos online and more and more people started noticing me.
I’ve read that you are a self-taught photographer. What was the hardest thing to handle as someone who learnt alone? And could you tell us what helped you the most during your learning process?
I never learned about photography from anyone else, but I don’t see photography as a hard thing for me. I guess because I don’t feel the need to follow some of the basic rules, I just do whatever I like. That is why I always experiment with film. I think the positive response from all over the world has been a major help during these years. I can’t say what helped me the most; I think persevering and continuing to experiment is how I keep learning how to turn the images in my head into photographs.
You’ve been mostly influenced by movies, right? What else inspired you and still inspires you?
Echoes in the darkness, slow movements, how the winds touch the waves, the shape of the trees after a strong wind, thick clouds in the sky before a storm, magical lights, all the things around me; nature and animals always give me new inspiration. My love for music and paintings inspires me as well.
According to you, how has your lens evolved since your beginnings? And what would you say about your photography style and what you are trying to communicate to the viewers?
I think I'm changing every year because I want to try shooting a lot of different subjects. People will find that my work is often focusing on intimacy, wild nature, and, of course, double exposures. I don't limit my interest to fit a specific predetermined style. I think my style relates to sensitivity and serves as a way to express my personal feelings. However, everyone has a different point of view, and how someone perceives my work depends on his/her personality and on his/her own background. I just need to focus on the project that I'm interested in at any given time. The rest is beyond my control.
By the way, could you speak about photography in China and how are your photographs perceived? There’s an amazing potential talent growing there, as we could see, for example, through the work of the late Ren Hang.
I don't know much about Chinese photography. I think that talking about his work is not important right now; I just feel sad that he is gone as a human being. But all I know is that our attitude towards photography completely differs from the approach that many others in China take. After he passed away, I spent some time thinking about what I want to do with my own photography. I’ve been doing this for years, but I’m a rather shy person. I have encountered a lot of problems that I seem to be unable to solve, especially here in China. My work is always received more positively abroad.
Photography means being able to play with light and shadows, something that you seem to be very good at. How would you define the role of light within your photographs? What does this element bring to your work?
Yes, light is an important factor to me. It usually brings a stronger sense of emotion to my work and it helps visualize the feelings that I want to communicate. Light can be soft, mysterious or result in unusual reflections and shapes.
Through this light work, you reach to document a stunning sensuality and intimacy within your photographs. What stimulates you to showcase such themes? And what are your objectives conveying on these themes?
I think I focus on intimacy because of my own sensitive personality. I’m interested in how people communicate without words, how their movement conveys a sense of intimacy – how they brush their teeth, take a shower, dry their hair, or move when they’re sleeping. Intimacy may occur in a seemingly insignificant moment. My curiosity about the human body as well as the recognition and interpretation of it, even unconsciously, led me to begin shooting these themes.
However, your photographs never unveil models’ faces. How would you explain this? Is it another way for you to spotlight intimacy through your works or just an opportunity that you want to give to your viewers to let their imagination talk?
People are always attracted by faces, and I am more concerned with the unconscious body language because that conveys more honesty.
Sometimes your images seem a bit unreal or surreal. How can you achieve such a result? What are the necessary skills to develop this kind of pictures?
My double exposure work is all done in the camera. I compose the entire picture in my head before I take it. Sometimes there are even three or four exposures in a final picture. So I have to carefully think of how I want the result to look like. The skills you need are imagination, determination, and an idea of what you want to achieve.
Tell us more about how your work with your photographs in your studio after having taken them.
I develop and scan all my films. I usually select some of my pictures and put them on the wall to get a better understanding of what my recent work has been about. I always enjoy putting pictures together that I find to have some sort of connection. Looking at the pictures to discover common details is like playing hide and seek, similar to searching for a secret key. It’s a maze game for me.
What are the next steps of Li Hui and her photography?
I never plan ahead. I know things are always changing. I just hope my upcoming self-published book will be better than the last one. I’m not satisfied with the work I have done, so I need to keep shooting new works for my next book.