Read + See

Human Woman: Jia Li

When I first met Jia Li, we worked together at Anthropologie and she was part of the graphic design team. The aesthetic of the brand was very feminine and ethereal, but when Jia was on a project I knew she’d push things to an edgier, more interesting direction. She had an eye and excellent taste, and her stuff always turned out cool.

No surprise, then, that Jia eventually bid farewell to that design job, packed up, moved to China and took up photography and videography as a craft—few things are cooler that leaving everything behind and taking up a new creative pursuit on the other side of the globe. 

I loved seeing her photos roll in from her new home—she'd turn her well-trained eye on the people and street scenes and serve up an unvarnished window into another world. Just before her recent return to the States, I saw a short film that she created called The Sound of a Wok, and was absorbed by the story—the one behind it is just as compelling.

Jia, going back a ways here: what prompted your move to China, and your shift in focus from digital design to photography?

It was a long time ago, but I distinctly remember a day when I felt that I needed to go from behind the computer to in front, dealing with real things and real people. That's when I made the jump from interactive design to visual journalism.

I don't think it was a particularly brave or informed choice, but maybe at the time I just needed to have a clean reset and throw myself into a more tactile, confusing world. As designers, you're always creating a bubble of the ideal. Documentaries and journalism are so reliant on others that it felt more interactive to me. 

You have a real talent for taking the everyday, mundane scenes of life in a city and making them feel special and unique once you've turned your lens on them. Do you remember when you first felt drawn to photograph a person or a scene on the street? 

I think I've always been very influenced by photography, and especially the idea of aesthetic and point of view. I've traveled all over, but I have to say there's no place like China where, as a photographer, you can constantly feel this tug between public and private, conscious and subconscious.

Surveillance is a pervasive fact of life, so people are quite used to the idea of the camera. Yet public and private selves and the self-consciousness and spatial awareness that you would find in a Western city just haven’t caught on. So in a sense, it's easier as a photographer to catch those mundane, revealing details, but more difficult to engage in a responsive manner. I'm always drawn to this conflict. 

As a photographer, you can constantly feel this tug between public and private, conscious and subconscious.

In Sound of a Wok, history, gentrification, government, real people, family and craft are all wound around a familiar, everyday object. How did you come across this story? 

A writer friend of mine has a knack for pursuing challenging food stories, and this was probably one of the most difficult to access. We basically wok-hunted, listening for the sounds, asking the entire neighborhood, scouring the city until we came across these wokmasters. When we found them, some literally ran away, and some, like the Cen brothers, never stopped pounding the metal, which was their polite way of telling us to scram. It was only through coming back repeatedly over three years that we found Mr. Tao. He was the sweetest, kindest, most charming woksmith who felt very deeply about his adopted craft. 

The film lends some serious gravity to the wok as an object and, more importantly, a purchase. I think if more people knew what goes into the creation of a thing—be it a wok or a shirt or a car—we'd all be better stewards of the world. Was sustainability—of culture, environment or tradition—something you wanted to touch on here?

I think sustainability is definitely one of the issues we wanted to address. A lot of people take that idea for granted, but we wanted to put a face to that issue. Hand craft can disappear not only because of modernization, drones, robots and technology, but because the actual physical work and time behind the craft come from people who have stepped up to take on that responsibility—for lack of options, for lack of money or for lack of future.

A beautiful wok represents deep care and craft, but it also represents decades of hammering in the hot sun, cowering in fear of eviction, community complaints, health problems—not to mention raw iron prices, competition in the market, and the reality of factory-made woks. We wanted to present this complex issue without fetishizing the craft, where woksmiths in a distant land make these "products" by hand with the utmost authenticity. Sustainability doesn't have to be a lofty concept— it can translate into a tangible, human understanding.  

Can you share any details about what's next for you?

I love micro-histories, and cuisine is one of the most revealing gateways into a culture's bigger stories, so there will be more of that. I'm also working on a longer-form documentary for TV on gender issues. 

We'll definitely be keeping an eye out. Thanks, Jia! 





The Fountain of Youth

The whole aging process is just life. I love wrinkles; it’s your age, it’s your life.
— Isabel Marant

Isabel Marant is an icon in like ten different ways. Read this interview and tell me she's not Diane Von Fursteberg's edgy French cousin. If there's a better approach to aging gracefully, I haven't heard it. (Or seen it. How cool is she?!)

I mean.

I mean.


Her quote was humming in my head this week while I tried to ignore the never-ending loop of ads for fillers, injectables and surgery in my dermatologist's office. (All aimed at women, BTW, despite the fact that half the waiting room was filled by hormone-besieged teenage boys.) Imagine what things would be like if it was Isabel's advice we followed, instead of those who insist that aging is something to fix?

Ladies Behind The Lens

From Emilie Regnier's  Hair  series.

From Emilie Regnier's Hair series.

In honor of Women's History Month, Time reached out to their favorite female photographers and asked each to give a signal boost to a woman who they felt was doing great, if under-recognized, work in her realm. There are some talents in this bunch. My favorites were the photo above, by Emilie Regnier, a Canadian-Haitian photographer who grew up in Africa, and the shot below by Cécile S. Baudier, a French-Danish documentary photographer who's currently in Copenhagen. 

From Cécile Baudier's  Diaspora . 

From Cécile Baudier's Diaspora

Human Woman: Marianna Massey

There’s a streak of wanderlust running through most of us—for some it surfaces once or twice a year, others every hour on the hour. In the lulls between journeys, it helps to have an escape hatch.


Enter Marianna Massey. This New-Orleans-based photojournalist is away from home more often than not, taking photos for clients like Getty, filling her portfolio with top-notch work and her Insta feed with secluded beach sunsets, hidden alleyways, killer meals and secret coves. Scroll as needed when you’re jonesing for a getaway—for now, let her give you the lowdown on hustle, humility and what it’s really like to be a professional globetrotter.

What kind of background did you have before you got into your work?

I studied photojournalism at the University of Florida and took some classes in the MFA tract, because I appreciated the artistic aspect of the work. But I think, in the end, that was more for people who wanted to showcase their work in galleries. If I had an MFA, what would I be doing? Working in a museum? The photojournalism major was such a better option for me.

I did internships at newspapers, I wasn’t a straight-A student but I really loved it. I was still finding my way. College was about learning how to show up. I could have studied anything, really–what I took away from it most was contacts. Those resources still come in handy to this day.

This editor who used to be with Sports Illustrated went to University of Florida, and I knew he was at the Olympics, so I tweeted him that I was there for Getty and asked if I could meet with him and show him my work. He saw my resume and was like, “You went to UF? You just went up 100 points in my book!” Fast forward a year later, and I got the Sports Illustrated cover with Leonard Fournette. That was only because I’d put myself out there.

Even with Getty, every time the Olympics is coming up I still get in touch and let them know I want the job. I email my boss and ask to be considered and show them what I’ve done in the past year, because they have like 150 photographers who go every year and it’s not automatic. I always ask, and am very pushy in that way. I don’t come across that way normally, but I secretly am.

Well, it definitely sounds like you’re keeping busy—how do you feel about where you are with your career?

I was definitely a late bloomer, so it’s intimidating to see the young people coming up who can do so much with the technology that’s out now. I think there’s no substitute for experience, but it still makes me hustle that much more. I try not to worry about that, though—you sit there and worry about it all day and you’ll make yourself crazy.

It’s easy to get caught up in it. “Why did he get that job, why did she get that job instead of me?” You just have to put your blinders on and keep working. You have to always be ready for the next thing, and thinking one step ahead.

How has social media (and the fact that everyone has a camera in their pocket) affected what you do?

There was this one trip I went on recently, and there was this woman, she was so gorgeous, and she came in, all the bartenders knew her and were fawning over here. And she sat there and Snapchatted herself the whole time! Didn’t speak to anyone, just putting her flower crowns on, and it was so strange and sad. I really try to make sure I take time just for myself, go out and not take my real camera, so I can just enjoy things and feel alive without documenting the shit out of it.

I’ve been on press trips with bloggers and they’re all doing their own thing, but now they’re all photographers, too. So I have to get up early to go shoot the sunrise before they wake up.

There’s always going to be something else—there’s always going to be a new Facebook, a new Instagram. I know people who are amazingly successful and super famous—you think those people are on Instagram? No. 

Do you think Grace Coddington gives a fuck about Instagram? No. She’s too busy creating.

One more thing: As someone who travels all the time, you must have picked up some packing tips. Spill it.

My photo gear always has to go with me, so that’s always in the carry-on. I’ll check my big lens if I have it. And then this bag has my laptop in it. If I’m shooting a golf tournament, then it sucks because I have to pack all my golf gear which I would never wear in real life! Rain gear, in case it rains…oh, and I definitely roll everything! I’m a firm believer in rolling. I stuff all my socks in my shoes, keep hotel samples, and I always, always bring a bathing suit and a black dress everywhere I go—you never know. Someone might have a pool, you might get an invite to a hot tub, there might be a party—you’ve gotta be ready for anything!

Human Woman: All Of You

I could not be more proud of all the women who showed up to march this weekend. Knowing that there are so many of us out there who still believe in what's right and are willing to fight for it made Inauguration Weekend just a little bit easier to handle. Keep calling, voting, supporting and resisting - together, we've got this.