Defiant photos that subvert Western beauty ideals

Defiant photos that subvert Western beauty ideals

Lost in translation — In English as a Second Language, Asian-born, London-based photographers Joyce Ng and Hanna Moon reflect on the power of fashion photography in shaping society’s perceptions of beauty – while drawing on their own personal experiences of living in the UK.

In a world where standards of beauty are rigid and prescribed, fashion photography plays an integral role in shaping perceptions. Fresh perspectives are of the utmost importance: the more voices, the better.

As two of the industry’s most intriguing young talents, Joyce Ng and Hanna Moon are at the forefront of a new generation of photographers questioning ideals and defying outdated norms. Through their work, the London-based pair – born in Hong Kong and South Korea respectively – use fashion as a vessel to navigate ideas of identity and interconnectedness.

Now, in a new exhibition titled English as a Second Language, Ng and Moon are teaming up to reflect on the power fashion photography holds in contemporary culture, all while challenging the notion of ‘otherness’ and exploring what it means to be lost in translation. Curated by Shonagh Marshall, the show spotlights the photographers’ ability to capture a beauty in the “often overlooked and unseen narratives in our everyday lives.”

Hanna Moon, River for‘Boom Boom’,Re-edition issue 2, 2015 © Hanna Moon

Joyce Ng, J’aimeDakar, September 2016 © Joyce Ng

“We actually came up with [the exhibition’s title] quite light heartedly,” says Moon. “I think it simply represents our identity in a nutshell – but not in a negative way. Myself and Joyce both experienced this mutual feeling of being ‘lost in translation’, living and working in the UK and having a different cultural background. But I think being ‘lost in translation’ ironically can inspire something totally unexpected. For me, being [it] doesn’t mean a struggle, it means unlimited possibility.”

“Growing up, my main visual stream was the ads and tabloid covers at 7-11 and my mum’s weekly purchase of Ming Pao Weekly, with its amazing supplement on everything cultural,” adds Ng. “I credit my visual language to the flooding of commercial and ‘non-highbrow’ images, and people I watched back home every day. I grew up looking at Olay and SK-II adverts where either Asian celebrities or models with ‘caucasian features’ or pale, mixed-raced beauties front the TV and billboards. Without this environment, I wouldn’t have so many questions I’d want to raise and solve through my photography.” 

Hanna Moon, Eckhaus Latta DenimCampaign, 2018 © Hanna Moon

Joyce Ng, In Her Five Elements, 2018 © Joyce Ng/Somerset House

Running from 25 January – 28 April, 2019, English as a Second Language responds directly to the historical setting of Somerset House. Moon captures two of her “muses”, Moffy and Heejin, “invading” the site at night to create intimate scenes that depict her own experiences of living in the UK. Ng, meanwhile, street-casts models from the surrounding community, using visitors and residents as characters in a series of fragmented narratives.

“Fashion photography is a mirror to our times, picking up on the social, political, economic issues of the day,” says Marshall, reflecting on her curation of the exhibition. “It doesn’t necessarily suggest a new way to look at the world, like good contemporary art does, but it pokes at the zeitgeist, framing social issues such as race, sexuality, gender in a new or different way. In that [sense], it is an important space to try out ideas and explore.”  

Hanna Moon, Gao for‘Cherry Baby’,Dazed Fall 2017 © Hanna Moon

Hanna Moon, Heejinin Seamen’s Hall, 2018© Hanna Moon/Somerset House

Joyce Ng, ‘Seven Sisters: Framed’, 1 Granary, No.4, 2016© Joyce Ng

Hanna Moon,‘Moffy’,A Nice Magazine, Issue 2, 2015 © Hanna Moon

Joyce Ng, “Safe in London! With Love, Guan Yin <3”, 2018 © Joyce Ng/Somerset House

Hanna Moon, Moffywith earrings, 2018 © HannaMoon

Joyce Ng, Face Value for Numéro China, 2018 © Joyce Ng

Hanna Moon & Joyce Ng: English as a Second Language is showing at London’s Somerset House from 25 Jan – 28 April, 2019.