Racism: Photographer sorry for ‘small eyes’ Dior picture

Chen Man's Lady Dior photo artwork
Chen Man’s picture for Dior had attracted criticism from some Chinese

A Chinese fashion photographer has apologised for her “ignorance” after a picture she shot for French luxury brand Dior sparked outrage. Chen Man’s photo showed a woman who some Chinese netizens said perpetuated Western stereotypes of Asian faces.

“I blame myself for my immaturity and ignorance [in my past works],” Ms Chen, 41, wrote on social platform Weibo. Dior said the photo, which was recently displayed at a Shanghai exhibition, has since been removed.

“Dior, as always, respects the sentiments of the Chinese people… If any errors happen, [Dior] must be open to receiving feedback and correct them in time,” the fashion house wrote on its Weibo account on Wednesday evening, adding that the work was an artwork and not a commercial advertisement.

The photo first went on display on 12 Nov, but immediately sparked a backlash from some netizens, and then local media outlets. In an editorial by the Beijing Daily, the model in the Dior photo was described as having a “gloomy face” and sinister eyes”.

“The photographer is playing up to the brands, or the aesthetic tastes of the western world,” the editorial said. “For years, Asian women have always appeared with small eyes and freckles from the Western perspective, but the Chinese way to appreciate art and beauty can’t be distorted by that.”

Meanwhile, a commentary by China Women’s News said that the image of the model with “swollen single eyelids” made people feel “uncomfortable”. Some Chinese Internet users pointed out that the photo was reminiscent of Ms Chen’s photo series dated 2012, which she had shot for i-D Magazine.

Internet users said Chen Man's Dior photo was reminiscent of her 2012 portraits she shot for i-D Magazine
Internet users said Chen Man’s Dior photo was reminiscent of her 2012 portraits she shot for i-D Magazine

Netizens said these pictures were an “insulting” portrayal of Chinese women, as they lacked the fair skin and large, round eyes that is typically prized by many Chinese.

Others said they projected a “prejudiced” and “racist” image of Chinese people. But not all agreed. Some stood up for Ms Chen, with one Weibo user saying: “Why can’t a Chinese woman with small eyes also be considered beautiful? I don’t see any problem with this.”

In her statement on Wednesday, Ms Chen said that she had “reflected deeply” and felt compelled to issue an apology after examining “nearly every negative comment” about her artwork. “I was born and raised in China. I deeply love my country. As an artist, I’m totally aware of my responsibility to document Chinese culture and showcase Chinese beauty through my work,” she said.

“I will educate myself on Chinese history, attend more relevant events, and improve my ideologies… I will strive to tell China’s story right through my work.” Ms Chen is a well-known photographer in the Chinese fashion world, shooting covers for top magazine titles and has photographed celebrities David Beckham and Fan Bingbing.

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