The Chinese fashion photographer in the Dior controversy apologizes

“I am a Chinese born and raised, I love my homeland deeply,” she wrote. “And I deeply know that as an artist, I have a responsibility to record and disseminate the culture of the Chinese people.”

She joins many Chinese and foreign celebrities, brands and artists who have issued a public apology following criticism of their work in state media. Some have been boycotted for refusing to apologize or if the apology is deemed insufficient.

Chen’s apology came more than a week after Dior was attacked for the photo during its exhibition in Shanghai, which showed an Asian-born model with tanned skin, freckles and dark eyelids holding a Dior handbag.

Critics deemed the photograph to violate East Asian beauty standards for fair skin and said it perpetuated Western stereotypes about Asian faces, such as slanted eyes.

At least one photo editor has praised their work in the past for creating an aesthetic that was unlike Western magazines, or Japanese and South Korean magazines. And in 2019, the Global Times described Chen as China’s response to American photographer Annie Leibovitz, calling her a “shining star” with a unique perspective.

Dior withdrew the photograph, adding that it was part of an art project and not an advertisement. In a statement on its Chinese social media account, Dior said it “respects the feelings of the Chinese people” and “strictly abides by Chinese laws and regulations.”

Other luxury brands have already been embroiled in controversies in China. In 2018, a Dolce & Gabbana ad sparked public outrage after the Asian ad model was ordered to eat spaghetti, cannoli and pizza with a pair of chopsticks. The videos were then deleted.

Chen’s social media post said she accepts criticism of her work, including those of a certain brand, but Dior did not clarify.

The photograph from the exhibition in Shanghai was taken in a style similar to a series of covers Chen made for British fashion magazine iD that featured 12 young Chinese women from different ethnic minorities. Many of the women did not fit what has become a common definition of beauty in China – some had small eyes and others had freckles.

Ding Yining, photo editor at Sixth Tone, praised Chen’s work in a 2018 article for the state-backed English articles website.

“From his works, it would seem that Chen prefers female models with narrow eyes and one eyelid and a traditional East Asian sense of elegance,” Ding wrote.

Chen told Sixth Tone that “as a professional visual artist, I think I should help more people recognize the face of modern Chinese beauty with greater confidence.”

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Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

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