Portraits



Fat Baby graces the cover of The New Republic for the Chongqing Dockers

Fat Baby graces the cover The New Republic for the Chongqing Dockers

I am very excited to announce that my portrait of Fat Baby is currently gracing the cover of The New Republic. Last fall I traveled down to Chongqing to photograph what would become the turning point in the season for the Dockers, the city’s first American football team. Fat Baby was one of the many characters involved in the ups and downs of this amazing venture. I usually provide a short summary of the articles I shoot, but this one needs to be read in its entirety. Chris Beam does an amazing job capturing the absurdities and struggles of this band of warriors. It’s an excellent look into some of the mutating facets of contemporary Chinese culture. It’s so good, in fact, that Sony Pictures bought the movie rights to the story. Maybe you will see Fat Baby on the big screen one day. Definitely a sports star for the ages.

Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic



    Portraits of Gigi Chao, Asia’s Most Famous Lesbian, for The Times

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong for The Times weekend magazine.

    This was definitely one of the more interesting assignments to come my way. The story of Gigi Chao and her father, Cecil, who put up a large bounty (HK$500 million) to anyone who could wed and bed his lesbian daughter, went viral on the Internet late last year. As if her life weren’t storied enough growing up amongst the mansions, helicopters, and yachts of Hong Kong’s elite, she was suddenly the most famous lesbian in Asia and object of unwanted desire from a host of suitors around the world. My father in West Virginia even saw the story and sent me an email suggesting I take a trip from Beijing down to Hong Kong to see what was happening. Eight months later I was boarding a plane to try my luck… at taking her portrait for The Times. Fortunately she was gregarious and no stranger to the camera having already appeared in a host of magazines including a recent cover for Hong Kong Tatler. The shoot itself went very smoothly but was not the time or place to suggest absconding to Las Vegas to tie the knot. Gigi is already happily married to her partner, Sean, another scion of a wealthy Hong Kong family. The incident is far from over, though. It seems Sacha Baron Cohen caught onto the story and is preparing to film a parody of sorts. The absurdity of the entire situation is about to be severely compounded.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

    Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.



      Girls’ Generation K-Pop Factory Girls for The New Yorker

      Clipping from The New Yorker's Factory Girls article featuring Girls' Generation.

      I am going to be playing catch up over the next month or two – lots of new work and clippings to share. These images are from an awesome article for The New Yorker delving into Korean pop music (aka K-pop). I flew down to Jakarta to witness a massive stadium concert featuring some of the biggest names in K-pop from S.M. Entertainment and take portraits of Girls’ Generation. The nine member group consists of Taeyeon, Jessica, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona and Seohyun. It was easily one of my most stressful photographic experiences. The management closely grooms these girls for years and try to control their media presence very closely. They were suspicious of what The New Yorker would detail and didn’t provide me with any information on how to get into the stadium properly. I was lucky enough to find a sympathetic security guard who let me into the backstage area where I only had fifteen minutes to set up all my lighting gear and another fifteen minutes with Girls’ Generation to take the actual photographs. Luckily they had some nice pink satin backdrops that worked well with my ring flash. Girls’ Generation knew how to pose for the camera as well, of course. The New Yorker Photo Booth blog interviewed me about the shoot here. These are some of the hottest up-and-coming stars in K-pop.

      Girls' Generation perform live in a Jakarta stadium for an S.M. Entertainment showcase of Korean pop.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

      Girls' Generation pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta



        “The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei” Wins John Kobal Award at National Portrait Gallery

        Ai Weiwei poses in front of his studio with one of his newfound cats.

        I am very pleased to announce that I was given the John Kobal New Work Award in affiliation with the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London this November. It was quite a whirlwind of an evening, and I must say I was completely honored to be awarded amongst all the great work that also hangs in the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize exhibition. I can’t encourage people enough to go visit and see for themselves. It will be hanging in the National Portrait Gallery until February 17, 2013. The portrait of Ai Weiwei was originally commissioned for Foreign Policy’s 2011 edition of the Top 100 Global Thinkers issue. It has since gone on to appear on the cover of the Telegraph’s Seven Magazine as well as in other media outlets. Check out the installation shots below. It stands right at the entrance of the exhibition. Critics seem to dig it so far. Lastly, here is the text from the accompanying catalog:

        “Matthew Niederhauser’s fascination with China was forged during his high-school studies in Mandarin, and the American photographer now lives in Beijing, where he documents aspects of Chinese life for a range of publications including The New Yorker and Time. Artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, the subject of Niederhauser’s entry, has crossed those lines on many occasions. At the time the portrait was taken, as a commission for Foreign Policy magazine, Ai was being held under virtual house arrest and forbidden to leave China following his three-month detention a year earlier. Wanting to capture Ai with one of the many cats that hang around his compound, Niederhauser persuaded him to pose with a ginger stray, its colouring setting off the teal-blue gates of the studio. ‘There was a tense moment when I didn’t think the cat was going to cooperate, but it finally glanced back, allowing me to get a few frames with everything melding together.’

        All selected photographers under the age of 30 were eligible for the first John Kobal New Work Award. The winning photographer receives a cash prize of £4,000 and a commission from the Gallery to photograph a sitter connected with the UK film industry. The Award was judged by Simon Crocker, Chairman of the John Kobal Foundation, and writer and journalist Liz Jobey, a Trustee of the John Kobal Foundation.”

        Matthew Niederhauser, recipient of the John Kobal New Work Award during award ceremony of the Taylor Wessing Awards 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery on November 5, 2012 in London, England.National Portrait Gallery 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize installation of The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei

        Cover clipping of the Telegraph Seven Magazine's The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei

        Interior clipping of the Telegraph Seven Magazine's The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei



          “Building the American Dream in China” for The New York Times Magazine

          Matthew Niederhauser's opening spread for "Building the American Dream, In China" in The New York Times Magazine

          I finally got an opportunity to shoot for The New York Times Magazine. They sent me to Harbin with Daniel Gillen, a young American architect who transplanted to Beijing to ride the wave of audacious infrastructure projects being built across China. He currently works for MAD, founded by Ma Yansong and one of the leading domestic firms in China. Over the past few years MAD was tapped to build a number of cultural centers and museums in their consistently curvilinear style, including the recently completed Ordos Museum and the China Wood Sculpture Museum that I photographed in Harbin. Unfortunately these grand architectural flourishes are usually just showpieces in much larger megablock developments – a small nod to innovation amongst a greater sea of mundane urbanity. Whether or not they actually see any use is still in question. In an ideal world they will become centers of creativity, but in the meantime, Daniel Gillen is only there to build them.

          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses outside the Harbin Wood Sculpture Museum.

          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses underneath the Harbin Cultural Island.
          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses with the Harbin Cultural Island.

          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses with the Harbin Cultural Island.

          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses outside the Harbin Wood Sculpture Museum.
          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses outside the Harbin Wood Sculpture Museum.

          MAD architect Daniel Gillen poses inside the Harbin Wood Sculpture Museum.



            “Tigress Tycoons” for Newsweek

            Zhang Xin/张欣, Yang Lan/杨澜, Zhang Yan/张兰 and Amy Chua pose for a portrait at Capital M in Beijing, China for Newsweek.

            This was one of my most intimidating assignments to date: a portrait of three of the richest females in China along with Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in less than ten minutes before their power dinner. It really was a Tigress Tycoons showdown. The leader of the streak, in my eyes, was Zhang Xin/张欣 (far right). Her company, SOHO China, is easily one of the top real estate developers in China, building some of the most daring (and sometimes dastardly) megablocks in the country. These properties reshaped Beijing’s skyline and netted her about $2.7 billion. Forbes and the Financial Times consistently list Zhang Xin as a top businesswomen in Asia. Her biography is also staggering. She saved up money working in Hong Kong garment sweatshops before moving to England to study at Cambridge and on to New York City to work at Goldman Sachs. Amazing. Next to Zhang Xin is Yang Lan/杨澜, also know as the “Oprah of China” thanks to her massive television presence and media empire. While not a rags to riches story like Zhang Xin, Yang Lan hit it big on Chinese domestic television, sometimes garnering viewing audiences in the hundreds of millions. She was one of the first talk show hosts in mainland China who really spoke her mind and cofounded Sun Television Cybernetworks.

            Last and certainly not least of the Tigress Tycoons is Zhang Yan/张兰 (far left). She founded the popular South Beauty restaurants with now boasts over forty locations throughout the country. Known for their opulent settings, they also serve up extremely tasty Sichuan fair. Zhang Yan completed the female power trifecta. Amy Chua is nothing to scoff at of course, but fits into a different category with her academic and literary accolades. Her book promoting the “Tiger Mother” parenting method  sent waves around the world, especially in mainland China. There is even now an “Eagle Dad” spinoff category. Anyway, it was a bit tense at first getting all the ladies together, but thanks to the antics of Zhang Xin’s husband, Pan Shiyi, who decided to take photos along with me, the ten minutes passed without a hitch. Be sure to check out Amy Chua’s accompanying profile of the Tigress Tycoons.

            Zhang Xin/张欣, Yang Lan/杨澜, Zhang Yan/张兰 and Amy Chua pose for a portrait at Capital M in Beijing, China for Newsweek.



              Ai Weiwei/艾未未 Marches On – Portraits for Foreign Policy

              Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait with one of his cats in his studio compound.

              A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Ai Weiwei in his studio to take portraits for Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list where he appeared at #18 in the rankings. He was very amiable and open to me directing him about his compound where I posed him with some of his favorite cats. Ai Weiwei is all over the news again. After a short period of silence following an 81-day incarceration, he continues to lash out at authorities and decry the trumped-up charges of tax evasion brought against him in an attempt to silence his outspoken criticisms. A recent Newsweek piece he penned where he related Beijing to a “nightmare” was especially noteworthy. This renewed vigor and boldness seem in large part due to the outpouring of support shown by anonymous Chinese donors who rallied behind him to raise $1.4 million to challenge his huge tax bill which he refers to as ransom money. Other admirers are finding more brazen outlets to show support by posting nude photos of themselves online in defense of other spurious pornography charges brought against Ai Weiwei for a set of revealing self portraits released on the Internet. To make things even more controversial, high profile figures are weighing in on the situation, including Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou who visited his current exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. It’s all quite a mess, but I am sure Ai Weiwei is pleased with himself for creating an even larger fuss than before his arrest – another great case of censorship backfiring in the face of the Chinese state.

              In a crazy sense I think the political space in China has truly transformed Ai Weiwei’s life into an interdisciplinary work of art or a “social performance” as he calls it. His invocation of the Chinese state’s ire came through a combination of critical sculptures, writings, photographs, videos and installations. While these separate pieces might not be interdisciplinary in nature, they have brought about a dynamic where every action or utterance of Ai Weiwei becomes performative in nature and open to intense analysis by journalists, officials, police and, increasingly so, the general public. His identity remains at the center and activates all of these mediums of expression, especially through the Internet which exponentially magnifies his impact. In a statistical sense, Ai Weiwei is not well known in China. Still, he is making waves where it counts and China’s intelligentsia is taking note. These are the people fashioning the new China, and his stand against censorship and political suppression is singular. By tapping into a populist sentiment with his donation drive, he is putting officials even more on edge. It’s a very crucial moment for Ai Weiwei right now. There is still a very distinct possibility he might disappear again.

              In other Ai Weiwei news, my friend Alison Klayman’s documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is set to premiere at the Sundance Festival in January. Check out the trailer and her appearance on the Colbert Report. It is very timely and should be a great film.

              Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

              Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait with one of his cats in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

              Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

              Ai Weiwei poses for Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers



                “A Future of Price Spikes” – Vegetable Stall Owners in Time Magazine

                Time Magazine "A Future of Price Spikes" clipping

                One of my first assignments for Time Magazine is finally in print. I spent a few days in Guangzhou earlier this year shooting formal portraits of vegetable stall owners for an article on rising global food prices. A combination of natural disasters and inflation continues to create a spike in food prices across China. Affordable basic necessities such as electricity, food, water and transportation are always a mainstay of the Chinese Communist Party, but these increases seem to be beyond their control. Consumption of food across China is rising dramatically in line with increased wealth in both rural in urban areas. Everyone wants pork and extra rice at dinner. Many of the figures in the article are actually quite alarming. Global food prices already increased 39% over the past year, food production must increase 70% by 2050 to meet the demand of swelling populations and the average amount of meat people consume has doubled over the past three decades. Despite our profound ability to manipulate our environment, we are going to have to rectify many of our eating habits, not only to combat increased food demand, but also to stave off the rising spectre of obesity. Still, I am going to have my fill of tacos while I am in New York City this month.

                Wangquan is 56 years old and a mother of three. Her parents also live with her at home.Machuangran is 16 years old and works at the market when his parents are busy. He lives at home with his older sister.

                Liuhaili is 28 years old and lives her husband and son. Her husband also works at the market.Wang Di is the youngest of three children and still lives with his parents.

                An assortment of vegetables and garlic at a Guangzhou vegetable marketPeppers are one of the commodities that has seen the highest price rise at a Guangzhou vegetable marketPeppers are one of the commodities that has seen the highest price rise at a Guangzhou vegetable market



                  The New Yorker Han Han/韩寒 Profile: China’s Bad Boy Blogger

                  "The Han Dynasty" clipping, featuring Han Han/韩寒, from the July 4, 2011 issue of The New Yorker

                  Han Han/韩寒 is China’s bad boy blogger, pop star, race car driver, lady killer and political-dissident-dabbler extraordinaire. His personal blog has garnered upwards to half a billion hits, and he ranked second in the 2010 Time 100 Poll for the most influential people in the world (granted there was a viral movement in China to boost his rankings). This week Evan Osnos profiled him in The New Yorker and my portrait accompanied the piece (there is a paywall, but Evan posted two related blog entries). Photographing Han Han in Shanghai was surreal. I think he is inured to contrived studio locations so he seemed a bit surprised when I met him on the street and started dragging him around to dirty internet cafes just off the Bund. Still, Han Han went with the flow and fully cooperated despite the ad hoc nature of the shoot. Quite frankly he is really easygoing and always down for a joke. A few people recognized him on the street and at the last Internet cafe we visited where I shot the published portrait, the manager flipped out that Han Han was present and allowed us to do whatever we wanted. Still, his popularity is a double-edged sword. Some people were scared to let them into their establishments while others couldn’t believe their luck.

                  After shooting Han Han in Shanghai I got to meet up with him one more afternoon at the Zhuhai International Raceway, just outside Macau. He was in full race mode. Bantering with the other drivers and strutting in and out of the pit, Han Han seemed at ease in the air conditioned confines of his sponsor tent. I feel Han Han is actually rather crowd averse. He mentioned that he was working on a new book, but otherwise seemed a bit resigned to his current daily routine – keeping things subdued ever since the crackdown on other outspoken activists around China. There is a boyish air to Han Han, and he is just as pleased to hone his skills behind the wheel instead of injecting caustic commentary into the Chinese zeitgeist. Despite the whirlwind of cars and speculation, Han Han is in no rush and has plenty of time to devise his machinations.

                  Han Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China, poses on the Bund with Pudong in the background in ShanghaiHan Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China, poses in an Internet cafe in ShanghaiHan Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China, poses in a traditional longtang in Shanghai

                  Han Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China and race car driver, looks down the pit lanes at the Zhuhai International RacewayHan Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China and race car driver, poses with his helmet in the stands at the Zhuhai International RacewayHan Han/韩寒’, the most popular blogger in China and race car driver, looks down the pit lanes at the Zhuhai International Raceway

                  Han Han/韩寒, the most popular blogger in China, poses in a traditional longtang with some local pups in Shanghai



                    China Vogue Music Feature: Bringing Rock to the Masses

                    A portrait of Cui Jian/崔健 at D-22

                    Thanks to my new friend Alex Chao, who just arrived in Beijing to take over art direction at China Vogue, I was able to contribute for the first time to China Vogue this month. It was also a perfect match since the magazine was running a big music issue and decided to let me cue up on some of the old school rockers in China including Cui Jian/崔健 (the godfather of Chinese rock), Shen Lihui/沈黎辉 (general rocker and founder of Modern Sky) and Zhang Youdai/张有待 (the DJ who introduced rock to the masses). First of all, I was very excited to get a chance to shoot Cui Jian on the D-22 red wall. He really is a pillar in the history of Chinese rock and greatly influenced a whole generation of China with his anthem “Nothing to My Name” which became a rallying song for students in China during the 1980s. Although I might not be the biggest fan of some of Shen Lihui’s music, his importance as the founder of the Modern Sky music label and festival production company is undisputed. When other record companies refused to release his music in 1997, he went his own way and founded Modern Sky to support a new generation of Chinese rockers and then continued to take this music to larger audiences with the Modern Sky Music Festival and Strawberry Music Festival. Shen Lihui will undoubtably be a force in the future of alternative music in China for some time to come. Although I had never heard of Zhang Youdai before, he seems to be an instrumental character in the history of rock in China as well. He became a DJ and host on Beijing Music Radio back in 1993 and introduced a wide range of music to youth across China. He is a true shaker in China’s emerging entertainment market and is rocking out to an Eric Clapton LP in the China Vogue portrait. Mad respect.

                    A China Vogue clipping of Zhang Youdai/张有待

                    A China Vogue clipping of Cui Jian/崔健

                    A China Vogue clipping of Shen Lihui/沈黎辉





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