Liz Hingley on her Fan Bingbing portrait for TIME Magazine
Fan Bingbing is a contradiction. She’s the fourth most highly paid actress in the world, yet she’s still largely unknown outside China. She’s the face of L’Oréal, Louis Vuitton and Cartier, but her beauty is alien, sometimes even alienating.
Liz Hingley photographed the 35-year-old for the February 6 cover of TIME, a story by Hannah Beech entitled “How China aims to take over Hollywood”, despite the difficulties that we’ve chronicled on this site.
While in the West Fan has so far been limited to bit parts in Marvel movies, she has starred in a ton of Chinese pictures, including Liu Pingguo’s indie hit Lost in Beijing (2007) as well as The Empress (2014-15), a popular TV show famously re-edited to crop out the actresses’ prominent Tang Dynasty cleavage.
We spoke with Hingley about the challenge of shooting one of the most photographed people in the world, a woman with a “lemur-like gaze” whose skin never sees the sun.
How did you get the gig shooting the February 6 cover for TIME?
Some years ago I presented my works at the National Geographic offices in Washington. One of the picture editors is now at TIME and discovered that I was living in Shanghai. She called me totally out of the blue at 9pm one Monday night asking if I was free the next day for an important shoot.
In the story, Jackie Chan is quoted as saying, “ All the writers, producers — they think about China. Now China is the centre of everything.” Why is Fan the face of that story?
Fan is the face of China’s contemporary film industry and probably one of the most recognisable women in China today. She is the fourth best-paid actress in the world and symbolises China’s growing relations in Hollywood. Jackie represents a different era in China-America film industry relations. It was a lucky chance that I managed to photograph Jackie and Fan together.
Despite not being well known outside China — her nothing roles in Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past not making much of a splash — with her Chinese film work and brand ambassadorships, Fan is surely among the most photographed people in the world. What did you want to capture in your portrait that we don’t see in other photos of Fan?
With only five minutes to take the shot I wanted to convey a sense of spontaneity and intimacy. Something beyond the classic stylised and staged portraits we normally see of Fan. So I used natural light and requested minimal make up. The file I gave to TIME was barely retouched and they were happy to publish it like that.
It is unusual. With her hair loose, remarkably unkempt eyebrows, no accessories or even clothes visible, it’s only the make up (and even that is light for Fan) that suggests she might be selling something. Did Fan and her team put any parameters on the shoot?
Time was the main factor, otherwise I found her team pretty open to me photographing, even outside. Fan’s skin never sees sunlight so the shoot had to be in a shaded location.
She is such a professional that it is incredibly easy to take her portrait. She knows exactly how to look into the camera and barely blinks.
Hannah Beech describes Fan as having a “lemur-like gaze”, with “outsize eyes peering out of a V-shaped face, like a cartoon princess ready for her selfie.” What do you see in the portrait?
I see a young women who is living the life that she has been trained to live. Fan appeared incredibly relaxed and at ease with the high pressures of her role. She floats past as if barely real, although her life is hardly what the rest of us could call reality.
The team that she selected to work with her were clearly dedicated and a fun group of people to hang out with on the road. I also photographed her in the Shangri-La hotel preparing for her red carpet moment at the Shanghai Film Festival. There was a moment where Fan and her huge pink Italian designer dress wouldn't fit into the lift and we all shared a giggle.
She wears a complex expression in the image, doe-eyed but strong-jawed, turned to the side a little less than three-quarters and with her mouth closed, making her face less triangular than you often see it (even when it isn't Photoshopped to the limits of credulity). I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s ambivalent.
Agreed. I feel that there is more engagement with the viewer in this image than most of Fan. I wanted to reveal something of a young woman’s character under the veil of stardom and glamour. She is truly beautiful so I had a pretty easy job.
- Article by Sam Gaskin