Paris-based, NYC-native photographer Christina Paik has taken the fashion world by storm. Close friends with Off-White’s founder and creative director Virgil Abloh and shooting for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Maison Margiela and Acne Studios she is a petite female figure in a world dominated by men and yet she creates images that marry high fashion and street style effortlessly – all with a very precise eye. Last month Paik stopped by Hong Kong for her MEUFS exhibition hosted at Hong Kong’s J-01 Gallery. We met her as she was setting up her showcase to understand how this photography and fine art major managed to make such impact in the world of fashion.
What is MEUFS?
It’s all girls: meuf means “girl” in French. Femme is French for girl – they flip it and add an “s” to make it plural. The images are from 2008 until now.
What’s the motivation behind MEUFS and how did this begin? What are you trying to create with this exhibition?
I started shooting girls a lot in Paris. A modelling agency reached out to me and said, “Hey, we keep seeing your work, we love it. We want you to shoot our girls but we don’t want you to shoot it the modelling agency way, we just want you to shoot it natural, candid, however you want.” So these girls would show up every week but they didn’t know how to dress – so I started dressing them. I think the most important reason why I keep shooting women is because the idea of beauty right now is really lost. Everything is Photoshopped, so girls look at magazines and think, “Am I supposed to look like this?” It’s all a lot of “post-” work. What is real beauty any more? For me it’s more about the chemistry I have with the sitter and I tell all my girls when they show up to the shoot: no make-up. Their natural beauty is what I’m trying to portray, to show these women and young readers what real beauty is. You being yourself, you not caring about what anyone else is saying – so that’s really why I shoot a lot of girls.
What is a “CP Girl” and what do you look for in her?
I think being unique is important just because I want to show these girls off. You have to be you. That is true beauty. They definitely need to have a certain look.
Does styling make a difference to the girls that you shoot?
I feel like I’m so picky and unique with my style. I love high-end and I love streetwear, and I think the balance between the two is trending right now so it’s interesting. I mean, I don’t want to shoot a girl wearing head to toe … I can’t drop brand names because it’s all politics for me. My site My Kinda Cosy [actually a page within Paik’s website] is my interpretation of how I would wear high-end stuff so I would do “My Kinda Céline”, “My Kinda Comme des Garçons” and then I tag it as My Kinda Cosy because it’s the way I dress every day. I want to be cosy, so I could be wearing an oversized T-shirt with a Comme skirt.
You took a lot of self-portraits in the beginning. What was behind that?
When I first moved to Paris, I really tried to connect with the city because I loved it. I had been studying photography and doing fine art before that, but when I studied in Paris, I really knew I wanted to be a photographer. When I first moved there I wasn’t really happy and I did the self-portrait work as a [way to] countdown every week. “Am I happy today? Am I happy this week?” I would [wonder, and I would] release a self-portrait every week in that sense. It’s a diary and I put it on the website I had and dated it. The series is called “Let Me Be” and I would release self-portraits every Tuesday.
From a creative perspective, how does the process of representing yourself or someone else differ?
The process is so important. It’s different shooting others and shooting yourself because obviously a self-portrait is how you want to portray yourself and how you feel. If you look at my self-portrait work you don’t see my face or it’s just really dark. My first series was re-enacting my childhood memories so there’s a lot more depth to it.
What’s important to you when shooting a muse or a subject?
There needs to be a connection. If a sitter isn’t going to meet me half way then I’ll try and get the sitter comfortable, ask them questions like about where they’re from. Love life is always good to break the ice, but I’ve had so many beautiful models where they just won’t work with me. If that happens, I don’t really want to shoot them so I just send them home.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully I’ll get to sleep. I’m also working on a book with Virgil; we worked together before Off-White started and I have backstage and casting shots from [their launch show at] Paris Fashion Week. We haven’t released any of it before, and I feel like this is a good time to do that.