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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Xi Sinsong: Fashionably Young

Just starting her career, Xi Sinsong is producing work refined beyond her years

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Sinsong's work frequently consists of subdued monochromatic tones, sculptural poses and minimalist compositions. But, occasionally, splashes of color—inspired by abstract painters like Piet Mondrian—and even dynamic, color-based concepts expand her reach. Bright color actually defines the series "Evanescent," made for the fashion magazine, Vulture. Sinsong took on the project specifically to challenge herself to expand her comfort zone.

"It's also an idea of trying to bring new stuff to what we have," Sinsong says, "and trying to make something fresh and different in the fashion photography world. It's a struggle; it's a cutthroat industry. First and foremost, before I go into a shoot, I always think about the atmosphere or a certain character I want to create. And then I go about thinking how I want the lighting to go or how I want the composition to go. Those technical things, you can always learn them, but I think the essential idea, the concept, is key.

"Shooting itself is a very small fraction of the actual process," she says. "It's the concept formation and retouching that take the most time. As for the concept, it not only comes from a so-called spark of inspiration, it often comes from reflection of older work and what to do next, which is a hard topic to approach. After the central theme has been decided, research will need to be done in order to see if it has been done similarly before. If yes, we'll need to figure out how to stay away from making an imitation. Afterward, I usually pull a few reference images together, send out to the team whom I think will be interested in—and good at—executing it, and after a few rounds of discussion, mood boards need to be made. These usually include a short writeup of the concept of the shoot, then broken down into inspirations for the mood, hair, makeup, wardrobe, lighting and reference images."

Although her photographs always start with her vision, the end result is entirely a function of a creative collaboration. Sinsong is eager to laud her team's significant influence on the outcome of each and every shoot. With "Evanescent," it was a collaborative effort to craft sets and makeup that carried the theme of the bright colors. With her series "Wahine," named for the Hawaiian word for woman, Sinsong's team created a series of photographs that share very little visually with the "Evanescent" work. With whatever project they tackle, though, her team doesn't rely on big budgets and indulgent productions. Instead, they build each series simply out of ideas, youthful exuberance and the passion for making great work.

"The first year of college, I dedicated a lot of time to testing shoots with models, trying to get a portfolio started so that I can contact more people to work with," she says. "I worked with different makeup artists and hairstylists, trying to see who shared similar ideals and vision, and I keep the people I like working with around. Also, after I started being published, I started to get contacted by people, as well. Say a makeup artist likes my work; they email me and say they'd like to work with me. If I like their portfolio, I'll write back and set up a shoot.
First and foremost, before I go into a shoot, I always think about the atmosphere or a certain character I want to create.
"I would say we're still on a shoestring budget," she continues, "first of all because most of the magazines don't really pay anything. Sometimes they have a budget for your production, but they don't really have any money to pay the crew. So everybody really comes together on working toward a portfolio idea. Everybody, no matter how experienced they are, they still come into the shoot with the same expectation: to create something really beautiful for their book."


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