The Chinese Zodiac
Project info

Chinese culture places great importance on its zodiac as a means of understanding human personality, assigning different characteristics to people based on the year of their birth and a specific animal associated with that year. (This differs from the Western zodiac’s monthly basis and reference to the constellations.) The Chinese Zodiac explores this unique world view by combining human subjects with traditional objects and symbols that evoke the spirit of a particular zodiac animal—rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig. In addition to these collage-like images, most of which incorporate a central, circular shape that holds its elements together visually, the series features stand-alone fashion photographs that illustrate specific zodiac animals. The work also incorporates references to various Chinese myths and legends that I grew up with, as well as stylistic influences from the Japanese animation that I watched when I was a child.

To create the series, I started by photographing twelve different models in the studio against a dark background. Each model’s clothes, makeup, and overall styling were intended to give them the characteristics of one of the Chinese zodiac’s twelve animals. Separately, I photographed large numbers of objects with Chinese features and characteristics, including doors, windows, fans, and other ornamental items, and in some cases traditional representations of real and mythical animals. For the collaged images, I used digital compositing techniques to bring these elements together in a single, consolidated arrangement against a black background.

The Chinese Zodiac’s dark backgrounds and tones reflect a personal style that I call “Oriental Gothic,” which takes its cue in part from the fairy tale-inspired work of British fashion photographer Tim Walker. The images’ darkness is my way of creating a feeling of both elegance and mystery that I associate with oriental aesthetics. Part of the project’s purpose is to share this aesthetic, along with the power and meaning of the Chinese zodiac, with viewers. In fact, most of the models I chose for the photographs come from different countries and have a specific interest in Chinese culture. I hope that through this project, more people will be exposed to Chinese concepts of beauty, and fall in love with them just as I have.