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Nan Li: I am now always seeing things from different angles in my life

When did your passion for photography start and what were the main milestones that turned you into the artist you currently are?

My passion for photography started after I bought my first camera around 10 years ago. I used to take it every day and everywhere with me, capturing my life and surroundings. When I shared those photos on social media, many friends often said that I had photographic eyes, which encouraged me to develop myself further along the path.

I once thought I would never photograph people, because I saw myself as an introverted person, who often felt shy when interacting with people. Then one day I was asked by a friend to shoot photos for her. I was hesitating at the beginning, but soon I found myself quite enjoying the process. This was the milestone that marked the start of my “people photography” journey. The second milestone was the Milan fashion week. A few years ago I was travelling in Milan during the fashion week by coincidence, and I saw many models and influencers everywhere in the street. I started to take photos of them and quite enjoyed it. Since then shooting street fashion during the fashion week has become a routine. I went to shoot almost every Milan fashion week thereafter. I even got a chance to shoot for a real fashion show, which I always see as the second milestone in my career. Another milestone was my first publication in an international fashion magazine. I was very excited about it and this has strengthened my determination to become a fashion photographer.

Has your vision and style evolved or changed over time?

Yes. If we speak about fashion photography in particular, I had more of a street style at the beginning. During that time, I mainly captured fashion in the street in a candid way. Later, I started to develop more of a cinematic style, where I tried to create a film look in my photographs. During this time I cared less about clothing, but more on the mood and look of the photo. After that, I started experimenting with creative lighting and fashion poses. Now I am more into creating fashion narratives, or to create photographs that make people feel that they want to join the vibe and be part of the story.

How has photography influenced you as a person and what do you love most about being a photographer?

Photography has opened my world and sparked my creativity. What is more important is that I am now always seeing things from different angles in my life, as I am always trying to shoot in different angles during a photo shoot. It also has increased my people skills, because producing a shoot is like directing a team in a company.

What inspires you and what gives you ideas to create your beautiful images? Can your ideas change depending on the model you are working with?

I get inspired mainly by other forms of arts, e.g. films, paintings, architecture or even cartoon movies. I like making connections among different things. Another major source of my inspirations are works from historic photographers, e.g. Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, to name a few. I often watch documentaries of how these influential photographers work in their time to learn and get inspiration from them.

And of course, my ideas change depending on the model, e.g. the look or the personality. There is no bad model, as photographers we need to find what works best for each model.

From your point of view, what makes the shoot successful?

A strong narrative in the concept and passion in my team. I always shoot with a narrative, no matter if I am shooting an editorial. I think a narrative is the baseline for any kind of artwork, because as an artist, you are not just creating a piece of artefact, you are actually building emotional connections to your audience, you are creating an experience for them through your art. This is especially the case for fashion photography, because you are creating a sense of transcendence for your audience, you are taking them into a new world - “Oh, life can be better, and I want to join”. So a solid narrative is the first and foremost thing, then I also need a passionate team to implement the narrative, my crews need to feel that they are part of the story. Whenever I see my crew’s happy face after a shoot, I know the shoot is successful.

In addition to being sharp and well lit, your photos are beautifully edited. What is your retouching/production philosophy?

I don’t like “overdoing” retouching, which often ends up in a plastic look. I prefer a natural look, and this is my top priority. Moreover, the retouching must fit the narrative. Talking about style, I usually like to have strong contrast and less saturation in my images, plus certain colors to set the tone.

Fashion can be a somewhat unforgiving industry with a lot of egos, how do you deal with it on set or behind the scenes?

There is a difference between self-confidence and ego, the former makes for great drive, the latter prevents you from being self-critical. For me, I always listen to advice and look for my flaws intentionally. But it is true that while working, I sometimes have to deal with other people with egos. I often discuss with them openly, and luckily I have never encountered problems because of this.

If you couldn't be a photographer, what would be your other career choice?

A designer. I would like to become an interior designer, or a fashion designer or even a programmer, who designs computer programs .… Basically I would like to be a designer of any kind . I simply love to create, to realise my vision, to be able to express my creativity in any area . Photography is just one medium that helps me realise my vision, there can be other means.

What is one last impression you want to leave in your photographs?

I would like to give the viewers the impression that life can be better, and they are not only willing to but also able to be part of it.

What has been the highlight of your career so far and what are your hopes/dreams for the future?

Perhaps the experience of shooting in a Milan fashion show and a few editorial publications can be seen as my highlights so far, but I am aiming for more. I would like to create an art studio and do more art direction, production and commercial work in the future.

Where can we see more of your works and get connected with you?

I have an instagram account, where I regularly post a selection of my recent work. I also have a website “Nan Li Photography”, where one can definitely see more of my work.

Model: Osceane Awoumou @moesha_km

Photographer: Nan Li

Creative Director: Gaelle Eyamo @van.models

Wardrobe Stylist: Ludovic Maeder @ludovic.maeder

Makeup Artist/Hair Stylist: Theodore Essama @thess.ess


You can read The MAIN ISSUE Vol. 16 here:



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