The photographer talks us through her visual playground.
Usually based between her native Beijing and New York, Sirui Ma began 2017 in Cuba, shooting an Autumn Winter look book for the Singapore born London based menswear designer, Peir Wu, the pair’s third collaboration following a project with Harvey Nichols and Wu’s SS17 look book, which they shot in the Chinese capital.
“I’d been a fan of Peir’s work for a while, before a friend put us in touch,” she explains of the relationship. “Mutual understanding and respect for one another’s work definitely makes our collaboration’s quite effortless. Peir’s is neither too overly embellished nor too simple; something about her clothing allows the wearer to assert his own identity into it, as opposed to the clothing being the defining factor of a wearer, and those are things I strive for in my photo work as well as in my personal style.”
Both are prominent attributes of Ma’s digital presence: her Instagram account – through which she first met Mizuki, pictured here – is a calm marriage of self portraits that highlight her subtle take on streetwear and a discerning showcase for her, predominantly analogue, photography; additional cameos of her surroundings also feature.
From where did your interest in photography initially stem?
My parents travelled quite a bit for work as journalists, and there were so many albums lying around the house with photos from various places they travelled to and lived; I used to flip through them all the time. They were all so beautiful and had a romantic quality to them, like a two-person journal of sorts? I really loved that. My dad later got me a small Sony point and shoot camera, and it started from there.
And how did you learn your craft?
I’m self-taught mostly. I’ve taken some classes here in and outside of school, but I think the best experience has been learning from friends and people around me.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
I’m inspired by the elderly. It sounds really fucking weird I know, but there’s a certain nonchalance in the way they carry themselves, and they have the best style; the best part is that they don’t even know it. I love walking around NYC, especially Chinatown, and looking at how the older people dress. When I shoot, I want my subject to feel that kind of comfort and effortlessness in whatever they’re wearing. I’m a big fan of Meisel’s work and the evidence of interaction in the photos between him and his subjects.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’d like to think that my work is romantic.
You’re based between Beijing and New York. How does each city inspire your pictures, and in terms of photography ‘scenes’, what’s the most significant contrast?
Though I’m not in Beijing as much, it’s definitely my home base and a huge influence for my work. For me, Western and Eastern cultures are so different in the ways they affect how people act in social settings, how people present themselves in order for others to be seen, and how they behave in front of a camera. I’m always trying to explore that aspect when shooting. In both cities, I’m focusing on both elements of style I may see in a person on the street or the interaction between someone I see and the environment they’re in. Now that I’m mostly based in New York, I feel a bit like an outsider when I go to Beijing, which is great because I’m able to appreciate my home in ways I may have overlooked before. As for ‘scenes,’ I’m not quite sure! I’m mostly interested in the different ways I can navigate a place and its people as someone behind a camera.
Last year you released a book, Running Water. Can you talk us through it?
Running Water is a compilation of photos I took throughout my trip home to China this past summer. At the time it sort of felt like a series of touristy photos of places I visited with my family and friends, since I hadn’t been back in four years. When I began sorting through the photos after I got back to New York, I felt a bit more emotional about them, and the book idea came to me. I was stuck for a while trying to figure it out since I hadn’t made a book before, and a friend helped me put it all together and publish it through Post Post Works. It was a fun collaboration and quite satisfying to see a collection of my work in tangible form, rather than just having them up on a website. It’s definitely something I’d like to continue doing.
The images here are from your series Mizuki. What’s the story behind it?
I actually met Mizuki through Instagram. She messaged me saying she was in town for a few weeks visiting from Tokyo and wanted to work together. I was interested, and we collaborated with my friends at James Veloria shop, who styled the shoot. It’s great when collaborations and friendships like this are able to come about through social media.
Is there any image, famous or otherwise, you wish you’d taken?
There are many images I love and am inspired by, but I want to make work that’s my own. I suppose that’s what drives me, to create images that my past self would have wished I were able to create.
Finally, name your party trick.
Singing along obnoxiously to whatever song’s playing. Or sitting in some corner.