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