The body is an art, especially if you look at it from the perspective of Chinese photographer Yan Yufeng, who shows us his admiration for the beauty of male bodies. We are not talking about photography itself but about everything it entails, “a sense of trust you have to build with another stranger”, as Yufeng puts it. Finding a midpoint between intimacy, delicacy and passion and sexuality, his honest and raw portraits capture his models in comfortable places where they can share their dreams, hopes and fears.
Even though you’ve worked with painting, lithography and wood engraving, photography is your main medium. Why did you decide to focus on it?
I studied print art in college. I was still exploring myself and not quite mature. After I graduated, I started some works in photography, which I found more comfortable to output my own aesthetic and ideas. Then, I decided to take photography more as a profession.
Each person has a different life story, including their experiences, achievements and traumas. Is each of your model’s personal story what attracts you and makes you portray them? Or is there a common thread, a more general essence/vibe that connects all of them?
In general, it depends on the first impression; it will make up my mind and make me decide if I will shoot them or not. Normally, I choose models based on my personal aesthetic – bonus points if he’s interesting as a person because the shooting process is as valuable as the result. On one hand, I prefer someone more easy-going. On the other hand, I choose models with unique but different temperaments to portray masculinity from different angles.
In your latest and most expansive project, Boy Comfort Zoom, from what point of view do you want to talk to the viewer? Is it passionate, sexual and provocative? Or is it more intimate, romantic and raw? Maybe a midpoint between the two?
It really is a personal project. In my mind, everyone wants a piece of someone’s personal life. I try to make the boys open in a comfortable zone to them, where they can relax and act natural in front of my lens. I try to present the authentic yet sexy and beautiful personality of the boys.
What would you say is the thing that attracts you the most from the naked body and skin?
It is challenging for me to photograph nudity. You have to build a sense of trust with another stranger. I enjoy the processes of trust-building as much as I am attracted to the beauty of human bodies.
All your models are male, why is that? What does the male body have that interests you so much?
I’m very interested in masculinity and I would like to create the men’s portraits following my aesthetic.
What criteria do you follow when choosing the different models of Boy Comfort Zoom?
Normally, it depends on the first impression, although my friends recommend me models as well. But I usually follow my intuition when I create.
Art can be either intentional and well thought and calculated, or more spontaneous, dynamic, improvised – it’s simply more unconscious. What role does improvisation play in your creative process?
I make a set of plans when I’m doing a commercial shooting. However, for my personal work, I prefer not to have a concrete plan. I like to get informed by the ambience and how we feel in the moment.
What would you say have been your artistic and personal references throughout your life? What has helped you to shape the gaze you have today?
My aesthetic is influenced by many artists, but what inspires me the most are my own life experiences. All the experiences I went through become the forces that shape the nowadays me.
Artists use art as a way of telling or expressing something, be it something personal, about their surroundings, or just exploring the possibilities of image-making and aesthetics. Of all your series, which one do you think has the strongest and most powerful message or the one that has more of yourself in it?
When I explore masculinity in different people, I also superimpose my own aesthetics and what I see of them. To me, it’s a reciprocal/mutual process. It’s not only a probe in the beauty of human bodies but also a fundamental question on image itself.
How would you say your Chinese background/roots have influenced your work and career?
There is a latent misunderstanding from the West to read the Asian aesthetics and attitudes of living as ‘feminine’. Through my work, I wish to address such dialectical relationship between femininity and masculinity in a broader context.
With all the different possibilities that art offers to express yourself, have you ever thought of experimenting with other fields like moving image/video?
I thought about video art, which has become more and more popular on the Internet. I’m interested in doing some moving images in the future and I’m learning new techniques about video art. But for now, I will stay focused on photography.