这次拍摄的想法主要是要展现出穿旗袍女人的优雅和神秘。鲜花、古老的建筑、昏暗的灯光，这些都是我脑海中浮现的东西。于是，我和Rani约在了皇冠马戏团(Crown Circus)见面。皇冠马戏团是格拉斯哥西端拜尔斯路(Byres Road)上方山上的一个重要地标。
所以我改变了姿势。我试着从后面拍摄，捕捉她的背影，我想毫不掩饰地用旗袍的线条来体现Rani的好身材。不过，我还是把焦点放在了别的地方，这样Rani的形象就会稍微模糊一些——毕竟，朦胧美才是最性感的选择。我想要的是隐藏在每一件装饰品和每一堵墙后面，捕捉在《Mood for Love》镜框中的那种犹豫、朦胧和紧张感。
A Woman in Cheongsam
I am watching In the Mood for Love, and I can’t help but admit a deep attraction to Maggie Cheung – or, to be specific, Maggie Cheung in cheongsam. She is going to buy noodles in an alley café, crossing by Tony Leung at the narrow, staircased entrance. The dark corridor creates an ambiguous atmosphere – it hints at a hesitant love between them. They politely nod to each other. She looks so graceful (and sexy) in her cheongsam there.
Cheongsam first became popular in late 1920s Shanghai, and then spread to other parts of China. It is the most traditionally Chinese style of women’s clothing – the high collar is to decorate a woman’s slender neck, and it’s tight around the bum to help depict a graceful figure. Chinese or not, it is probably the most feminine dress I’ve ever seen. And now, unfortunately, it’s fading into oblivion – well out of fashion, and anything old is not preferred in the monochrome tide that is sweeping mainland China.
But I am fascinated by the elegance of a cheongsam. So, I asked my friend, a tall and slender girl from Guangzhou – Rani – to go on a shoot with me. Of course, beforehand, I asked her to watch this same film: Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle’s In the Mood For Love, and she went through the film three times.
We had a cheongsam shipped from China. It was a short, dark blue dress with a white print decoration, and Rani wore it with a vintage gold handbag. The dress hugged her figure just right – she could not have been more beautiful – and she looked classical with her hair up, too.
When I saw her on the shooting day, I knew that I had found the right model!
The idea of this shoot was mainly to show the elegance and mystery which immediately attaches itself to women wearing cheongsam. Flowers, old buildings, dim lights, those were the things that came to my mind. And so I met Rani at Crown Circus, an important landmark in the west end of Glasgow, on the hills above Byres Road.
I don’t think I’ve seen something like Crown Circus before, not in an old, stately building like that – it’s 160 years old, born of the mind of James Thomson – because it runs in a giant semi-circle. It is, in fact, just like the view of a circus tent from the front. Or a crown, for that matter. And it’s an unmissable jewel for anyone interested in the beautiful architecture of this city.
Across the road is what looks like a two-story cottage with a garden, overgrown with grass and weeds – seemingly uninhabited. I asked Rani to try sitting against the low wall outside the house, not looking at the camera. Her in her cheongsam, with the old-style building in the back, both like beautiful memories of a world being left behind.
Here it’s like she’s waiting for someone:
We found a cluster of pink-flower trees near that house. The flowers had only just begun to bloom. Rani sat amongst them, quietly looking out, all poise – while I was scratched by the branches and wobbling on one foot to get the picture. Because we were shooting on film, for which the camera must very remain still, I was despairing: No way! It’s going to get fuzzy.
But it turns out that just the right amount of fuzz has only added to the picture a kind of hazy beauty. It was also my favorite photo of the whole shoot. I love these little accidents!
After taking the outdoor shots, I suggested we go to one of my favourite places to shoot. I’ve mentioned it before: Charing Cross Mansions. Inside the closes of those buildings (if you’re lucky enough to get inside) the corridors are dimly lit with yellow light, which can conjure a sense of living history and intrigue.
I tried to take some profile shots of Rani walking up the stairs in one such close, which were beautiful, but lacking – where was the sex appeal of Maggie Cheung? That’s what began this whole project, that’s what I’m really after recreating.
So, I changed my position. I was shooting from above. I moved back now, to take shots from behind. I wanted to unabashedly reflect her good figure clung to by the lines of the cheongsam. Still, I set the focus elsewhere, so that Rani would be slightly blurred – after all, obviousness is rarely the sexiest option. A straight shot of her bum and legs going up the stairs… No, I wanted the hesitancy, the misty, the tension that hid behind every ornament and every wall and caught in In the Mood for Love’s frames.
The result, to me, is wonderful. She may not be in focus, but she pulls the focus of the viewer. And I like to think that there’s a story in there, happening in the background – we’re watching the fixed platform of the stairway bannister, but there is life to be found in this European-style close, as an eastern woman ascends to who knows where.
Tip: While focus is important, not every shot needs to be sharp and clear. But you are searching for another element in your photography – when you want to express something new and tender – playing with the focus is your first port of call for experimentation. Try obscuring a part of the scene to bring a different aesthetic to your photos.
hroughout the shoot, people on the street were constantly complimenting Rani on how well she was dressed, asking, ‘What a beautiful dress, are you going anywhere nice?’ ‘Just for a photoshoot,’ she would say, waving her hand and politely smiling. And I can’t help but think: Such good-looking, classical dress – why is it that, nowadays, less and less people want to wear it? This is a trend not only in daily life, but even in festivals and special occasions.
In Japan, people wear kimonos and yukatas for big ceremonies, or just to a nice dinner. In Scotland, men strap themselves up in their kilts for any occasion, any excuse. But we, the Chinese people – our attachment to traditional dress is disappearing. We have assigned it to the past. And I sincerely hope that through this shoot, even just a few people might see the beauty of cheongsam (qi pao, in Mandarin), and be encouraged to engage in our traditional world more often.
[ Kiki Zou]