Yushi Li is a London- based contemporary photographer originally born in the Hunan Province, China. She is currently completing her PhD in Arts and Humanities at the Royal College of Art. Yushi centres much of her work around gender dynamics through a sexual lense. Rather than choosing to avert the male gaze by mocking or criticising the way in which women are perceived in visual media, she instead chooses to subvert the dynamic entirely. Her more recent works are thoughtfully curated on every level to represent elements of internet hook- up culture. Yushi contacts men from dating apps that meet her personal preference, asks them to appear nude for her, and composes these scenes in pre-booked locations on Airbnb. A sense of anonymity associated with casual sex is prevalent as these spaces are homely and domestic, yet belong to neither photographer nor subject.
Speaking with NOWNESS, Yushi describes being ‘tired of seeing naked women’ and states in plain terms that she ‘photographs men because [she] likes men’. With this simple precedent, Yushi can emphasise a problematic male gaze by gratifying herself and creating images that she desires on an equal footing.
This gentle yet powerful response to female sexualisation speaks heavily to Yushi’s aesthetic which is sexually raw, yet ‘soft’- a trait she also finds attractive in a man. In more recent works, Yushi places herself within her compositions, fully clothed; her presence in this way adds context and provocative thought surrounding typical gender dynamics when alluding to sexual interactions.
In the current world where intimacy with both established partners and strangers is more difficult (read dangerous) than anticipated, social technology is increasingly a crutch for maintaining closeness. As a consequence, Yushi Li’s poignant photography becomes ever more relevant, especially from the female perspective.
By Alex Jordan