Popular fashion photographer, Gloria Gao, shows the world the meaning of “real beauty” and the diversity of the concept
There has been an increasing awareness about the illusion of the “perfect body” since 2019, with more American ladies beginning to realize the essence of owning their bodies. In the same year, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which hit a record of 12.4 million viewers on ABC, was canceled due to a public firestorm. This led to more women across the globe realizing that beauty cannot be only defined as a single type – the angel type. The development also triggered professionals to make the public discuss more beauty and giving them a chance to redefine “the real beauty,” with the likes of Gloria Gao seemingly championing the campaign. The New York City-based fashion photographer realized the peculiarities of this topic earlier than most people, with her artworks helping people to discover more possibilities of beauty in fashion.
Gloria grew up in a traditional family in Guangdong, China, with her strict parent always telling her “what can be done” or “what cannot be done”. After college, Gloria realized that her peers were pursuing the aesthetic concept of “thin and white” to the extreme, with the complex social media information flow making it extremely difficult for young girls to distinguish between the most suitable viewpoints. While following others’ opinions seemed to the easiest way, Gloria soon realized that the aesthetic concept of “thin and white” is not an accurate idea from her own opinion. However, the heavy peer pressure made it difficult for Gloria to speak out her idea, leading her to silently pick up the camera and begin to discover her own definition of “beauty” from the lens – the first step for Gloria to get into fashion photography.
After coming to New York, Gloria felt like she had opened up a brand new world here. Described as the world’s largest and most culturally integrated city, New York offered Gloria an avenue to set her original vision in fashion photography, discovering the beauty of women of different ages and races.
Gloria did not have the easiest start to fashion photography. As a newcomer to New York, it was impossible for her to immediately build up relationships and find a suitable fashion designer to collaborate with, as most people could not relate to her challenge. However, Gloria remained focus, visiting offline stores and the designer team one by one. Her persistence started to yield fruits after getting Stefan Maier, a New York-based fashion designer, to cooperate with her. “Stefan Maier’s clothing was made of environmentally friendly materials. Her design concept just coincides with my original intention. That’s the reason why we would love to collaborate,” said Gloria. After their discussion, Stefan Maier carefully chose clothes, while Gloria interviewed more than 60 elderly models to create a unique fashion artwork.
Gloria adopts a unique approach to selecting elderly models, starting with being emotional, which was not particularly easy as the number of elderly models is limited. On the other hand, it may be difficult for an elder to understand her idea of avant-garde fashion photography, making it even more tasking for Gloria to find a fit model. “Honestly, I’m very lucky. Even though the model I finally worked with was not a professional model, she works in a professional way. She showed the extensibility of the clothing very well and she fully reflected the ‘beauty of years’ in an accurate way,” Gloria said.
One of Gloria’s artworks focuses on Asian girls and African American girls. These two race groups have always been controversial and vulnerable in the U.S. and Gloria seeks to change this narrative by working with a vintage store to show the unique style of minority girls by using retro style clothing. According to Gloria, every girl is beautiful and unique. “I have seen irreplaceable personal charm in each of them. I hope to use my own lens to show the diversity of beauty. Maybe they are not beautiful in the public standard of beauty, but who can say that real beauty has only one definition?” Gloria said.