Softness and Strength:

From 25 – 28 April, PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai returns for its ninth edition, comprising local and international galleries, leading arts organisations and esteemed cultural partners. Showcasing the work of more than 150 artists, the event reaffirms its position as Asia Pacific’s leading photo-based fair. Highlights include ShanghART Gallery’s showcase of Venice Biennale artist Robert Zhao Renhui as well as UP Gallery’s presentation of Aesthetica-featured artist Anastasia Samoylova. On display is Samoylova’s Breakfasts, an ongoing project in which the artist stages imaginary meals with luminaries of photography that have inspired her practice. ATLAS Gallery, meanwhile, hosts some of the most celebrated photographer’s of the 20th century, including Elliott Erwitt, Hiroshi Sugimoto and William Klein. In this roundup, we spotlight the work of four artists: Hailun Ma, Lotte Ekkel and duo Honey Long and Prue Stent.

Hailun Ma (b. 1992) is an exciting photographer who has worked with the likes of New York Magazine, i-D, and most recently Vogue+, for which the artist shot Rihanna. Ma’s work, however, is not confined to fine fashion shoots. More rousing is her regional photography that examines minority communities in China, such as her displaying series Kashi Youth, that focuses on youth culture in Kashgar, China’s western most city. The work opens up conversations on representation, community and culture, where where boundaries of gender roles and cultural norms are increasingly blurred. In an issue of Modern Weekly Style China, Ma created a photoshoot that platformed female bodybuilders. Women appeared oiled up, powerful, slick and toned in a series of poses, subverting traditionally male “beefcake” aesthetics. In Kashi Youth, Ma’s gaze adjusts, this time settling on subtle nuances and intimacies felt between men. Here, figures appear in fields of sunflowers, or mid-discussion as they relax next to parked bicycles.

Netherlands-based photographer Lotte Ekkel (b. 1988), meanwhile, presents an image-making that sits between styles of vintage and contemporary photography. Detail emerges in the most unlikely of places – as Ekkel pays a particular focus to shape and colour. In one shot, the shadow of a giant Monsterra leaf appears on a vibrant yellow wall. In another, we find an aerial shot of a khaki-green apartment block. A retro, diamond-patterned floor is reminiscent of the mid-century modern imagery of Chloe Meynier, or the understated and unsettled work of Chrissy Lush. There is a feeling of hidden desire conveyed through images that are a mixture of diaristic and documentary. Ekkel explains, “I believe our thoughts and assumed truths in a given moment are far more dynamic than we realise.” She encourages us to slow down and pay attention to the unseen, to sit a little and “appreciate the relativity and beauty of each moment.”

Elsewhere, Australian duo Honey Long and Prue Stent explore the relationship between femininity and the natural world. In their series Phanta Firma, subjects pose against crystal-blue skies cloaked in colourful monochrome fabrics. Often, these figure embody a classical aesthetic, evoking Botticellian nymphs and Venuses, or contemporary Monroes. Viewers are, in part, reminded of the sirens from The Odyssey. Yet Long and Stent do not relegate their figures to symbols of temptation. Instead, they draw out individuals who are self-assured and in control, evoking the surreal images of Liz Miller Kovacs. The work feeds well into a larger programme that speaks to this year’s Insights sector, entitled Softness. Focusing on the delicate, but powerful capabilities of the human body and its possibilities for tenderness, PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai “evokes the power of art to bring comfort and reprieve through a multi-sensory experience.”

PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai | 25 April – 28 April

Words: Chloe Elliott

Image Credits:

© Honey Long & Prue Stent, Drapes, 2016, courtesy of the artist and Fahey Klein

© Hailun Ma, Kashi Youth 02, 2023, courtesy of the artist and Gaotai Gallery

© Lotte Ekkel, MEXICO CITY #1, 2024, courtesy of the artist and MICK Galerie

© Hailun Ma, Kashi Youth 08, 2023, courtesy of the artist and Gaotai Gallery