A DIMLY-LIT photo of a woman sporting hot pink lipstick. A side-profile shot of a woman with a mohawk. Another one donning a masquerade ball mask.
Chinese fashion photographer Chen Man's subjects look like models in a fashion magazine shoot, but look closer and you get a totally different picture.
In Bad Head 1, the model with the pink lips has numerous metal gadgets adorning her head and face, and her eyes peer downwards with a hint of regret. The mohawked model's "hair" in Bad Head 3 is actually a tangled heap of electric cables and USB wires. Meanwhile, the "mask" is made up of broken cell phones, a striking comment on our technological obsession.
Although a commercial fashion photographer, Chen's work goes beyond just glossy magazine work. She has created a name for herself in the art world as well with her signature style: stylised fashion images with a touch of social commentary about the way the Chinese live their lives today.
Using post-production digital manipulation, the photos have been rendered to polished perfection, but not to the point that they look unrealistic. Her works are now on display at the Four Seasons Hotel's link bridge.
Chen, 32, explains that the symbols of technology, such as cell phones and USB wires, represent the way young Chinese have embraced the digital lifestyle. But it also speaks of the "new materialism" sweeping through China, says Chen.
The struggle is present even in the art world. She says: "Many Chinese artists blindly copy Western things to appear hip. As a fashion photographer, my works try to make sense of the real China, with all the difficulties that it is going through."
Born and bred in Beijing, Chen has a rather impressive track record, having taken photos for the covers of Vogue China, Harper's Bazaar China and British magazine i-D.
Last year, she was even invited to collaborate with American make-up brand MAC on Chen Man Love and Water, an East-meets- West inspired line of products in pastel shades of pink and blue.
Chen studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Her first big break in the industry was in 2003, when she was still in college. She began taking cover photos for Shanghai magazine Vision, and it wasn't long before other fashion magazines like Vogue China and Elle took notice.
But as soon as she found success, she also gained her share of detractors. "Some photographers don't see me as a photographer as my photos look like artworks. At the same time, some artists don't see me as an artist as my works are published in a fashion magazine.
"The impression I give to many people in that world is that I airbrush my photos to made my models look like 'demons and ghosts'."
Instead of hitting back at her critics, Chen chose to be agile and shift gears. She dialled back the stylised poses and made her photos look as natural as possible.
"I opted for a more minimalist look. The works look just like what I create at the time of the photo shoot. This allowed people to understand that I was not only good at creating images in post-production, but that I could in fact create naturalistic looks," she says.
Now that she's silenced some of her naysayers, Chen feels more free to create the works she's most comfortable with: provocative glamour shots with a sardonic edge. This steely woman, however, is well aware that there will be more challenges up ahead.
She says: "I never look back. It distracts me from my current goals. The past, after all, isn't here anymore. The future is also somewhat unpredictable. So I prefer to focus on present challenges."
Chen Man is on at the Four Seasons link bridge in the Four Seasons Hotel, 190 Orchard Boulevard Road, from today till March 31. It is open all day and admission is free. Her works are priced at between $6,000 and $26,000. For more details, call Galerie Steph at 9176-8641.