Fashion editorials often strive to escape the bounds of reality to pursue a vision of pure fantasy. Photography, though central, is simply one tool among many. The worlds gleefully built by photographer Wei Huan abound with humanoid characters inhabiting blinding, colorful alien landscapes. Models pose in dystopian wastelands or sit in pools of industrial waste as tire fires burn in the background. Others curl up in a warm bedroom, encased in a creamy, dripping bubble.
“The role of photography in fashion editorials,” says Wei, who lives in Guangzhou, “is to stand out like the most beautifully dressed person in the crowd, to quickly attract people’s attention.” To achieve that aim, she dispenses with the rules of any single genre. “I don’t really care if my work is classified as photography. The camera is just a medium, not the ultimate goal.”
Wei started out studying graphic design but switched to photography, which she found more interesting. Working as a creative director after college, she honed her personal style and accumulated enough knowledge of photography and fashion to realize her visions.
“I don’t need to depend on anybody else to bring my ideas to life. No one knows better what the picture in my mind is than I do,” Wei says. She creates the core vision for each project, yet she still works with a team of trusted and valued collaborators. “A fixed team knows much more clearly what the other person wants, saving a lot of communication costs.”
In post-production is where Wei’s team often dials up the surrealism, digitally adding tentacles or reptilian appendages to her models. But she’s begun moving away from software-assisted image manipulation. In recent years, she increasingly works with stage designers and makeup artists to physically bring these dreamlike elements to life.
Wei enjoys working on fashion editorials because they allow for radical creativity. “I like the constant creativity in fashion,” she says. Still, there are strings behind that funding. “It’s a service, and you work for a client.”