Bring­ing Mon­sters and Beasts in the Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas to Life


Special Focus - - Contents - Zeng Pengling曾鹏凌

The Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas, which de­picts all va­ri­eties of mon­sters, freaks, and folk­tales full of pe­cu­liar­ity and imag­i­na­tion, is the source of Ro­man­ti­cism in China. Tao Yuan­ming, a poet of the Jin Dy­nasty, once wrote: “While I scan the clas­sics of the Zhou Dy­nasty and the charts in the Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas, the mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse are un­veiled in front of me. Why should I be dis­con­tented?”

The leg­endary beasts in the an­cient book, Clas­sic

of Moun­tains and Seas, are brought back to life by a con­tem­po­rary pho­tog­ra­pher named Huan­huan.

Huan­huan, a post- 90s girl who now lives in Chengdu, Sichuan Prov­ince, once worked as a model. She found that tak­ing pho­tos of oth­ers was more her pas­sion than hav­ing her photo taken. Huan­huan chose to be a com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher, turn­ing her­self from a model into a shooter.

As a lit­tle girl, Huan­huan had long been cap­ti­vated by the fan­tas­tic ghosts and mon­ster sto­ries told by her grand­mother. There are mys­te­ri­ous and rare an­i­mals, such as the be­witch­ing fox with nine tails, the mer­maid weep­ing pearl-tears, and the fly­ing fish with long wings. When Huan­huan grew up, she came across the Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Sea sand was ob­sessed with this book. Each time read­ing it, she finds her­self tour­ing in the mys­ter­ies that she al­ways dreamed about in her child­hood.

Af­ter Huan­huan had been work­ing as a pho­tog­ra­pher for some time, an idea flashed to her mind: why not re­cover and rep­re­sent the rare an­i­mals in the Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas through the cam­era. Huan­huan im­me­di­ately took ac­tion. Since 2017, Huan­huan has de­signed and com­pleted more than a dozen photo series that fea­ture the beasts and mon­sters from the Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas . The fan­tasy world nar­rated in the an­cient book has been re­stored through the

cam­era lens of Huan­huan. The var­i­ous beasts recre­ated by Huan­huan are full of spir­i­tu­al­ity, or are glam­orous and fas­ci­nat­ing, or savvy and en­chant­ing. Be­hind these pho­to­graphic works of dis­tinct per­sonal style is Huan­huan’s re­lent­less pur­suit of aes­thetic per­fec­tion, which is al­most nit­pick­ing.

For each shoot­ing, prepa­ra­tion is al­ways ex­tremely lab­o­rand re­source- in­ten­sive. First, Huan­huan chooses a sub­ject— a kind of rare beast in the Clas­sic

ofMoun­tain­sandSeas . Then she reads all the ma­te­ri­als she can find about it to ob­tain gen­eral in­for­ma­tion of its im­age, char­ac­ter­is­tics, and liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Then, she fin­ishes the de­sign­ing job. Af­ter that, she makes cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories, which is one of the most dif­fi­cult parts of pre-pro­duc­tion. For in­stance, the feather cloth of the bird Bi­fang was glued by hand, each feather one by one, by Huan­huan. At least a few all night stu­dio ses­sions are a “com­mon oc­cur­rence” for each photo series. An­other ex­am­ple is her phoenix photo. The flam­boy­ant phoenix gar­ment was made up of 7,000 pea­cock feath­ers, which took three full days to cre­ate. Ev­ery day Huan­huan and her team worked from day­break to the early morn­ing hours. “My back is barely straight,” said Huan­huan. As for some cor­ners and scales, the ma­te­ri­als bought from the mar­ket can hardly match the charm of the leg­endary beasts. In order to per­fectly present her phi­los­o­phy, Huan­huan some­times re­sorts to high tech­nol­ogy. For ex­am­ple, the horns of her Shenghuang were made us­ing a 3D printer af­ter sev­eral trial print­ings. Above all, Huan­huan does not care how hard the whole process is, but just con­cen­trates on each and ev­ery de­tail in her works.

Af­ter pre­par­ing the cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories, Huan­huan has to choose the proper en­vi­ron­ment for shoot­ing. She aims to find and re­store the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment de­scribed in the book. For this

rea­son, she goes to var­i­ous places, such as moun­tains, lakes, and deserts to search for the most ideal and nat­u­ral back­ground. For ex­am­ple, when shoot­ing the series of the Nine-Tailed Fox and South Sea But­ter­fly, Huan­huan flew to the Gobi Desert in Dun­huang in North­west China.

How­ever, the var­i­ous un­cer­tain­ties in the process add to the dif­fi­culty of shoot­ing. In July of 2017, when Huan­huan took her first shots of the series of “Shenghuang— Clas­sic

ofMoun­tain­sandSeas ”n i Du­jiangyan, Sichuan, a sur­pris­ing down­pour forced them to give up the scene, de­spite the placid river be­ing per­fect for the shoot just a few hours prior. What’s more, the cos­metic bag fell into the wa­ter and was washed away. The heavy rain caused the river to soar, and Huan­huan was trapped in the river. For­tu­nately, Huan­huan es­caped the dan­ger and com­pleted the shoot. When it comes to this shoot­ing, Huan­huan still feels re­gret that they had to redo it, for the once clean river had be­come muddy dur­ing the rain­fall.

Huan­huan’s pho­to­graphic works are full of her per­sonal style: bizarre and en­chant­ing, but full of rea­son­able imag­i­na­tion. Since Huan­huan is fas­ci­nated by Chi­nese tra­di­tional cul­ture, she hopes to let more peo­ple know about the charm­ing leg­endary an­i­mals and in­ter­est­ing Chi­nese myths in her own way— through pho­tog­ra­phy.

乘黄 焕焕/ 摄 Shenghuang­byHuan­huan

毕方:“一足,赤文青质而白喙,名曰毕方。其鸣自呼也,见则邑有譌火。”——《山海经·西山经》Bi­fang: “There is an an­i­mal called bi­fang, which has red pat­terns, dark feather and white beak. Its singing cor­re­sponds with the name bi­fang. The pres­ence of bi­fang gives prom­ise of blaze in cities.” —Clas­sic of West Moun­tains, Clas­si­cofMoun­tain­sand Seas.

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