Miroir Project

Society & Culture

Celebrating female photographers in China

From At Home with Family by photographer Liu Sidan, which took first prize at the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition.

This article was originally published on Neocha and is republished with permission.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a feminist movement was underway in the Western world. Dubbed as “first-wave feminism,” this initial fight centered on suffrage and other political rights. Since then, society has made further strides towards gender equality, yet many issues remain. Throughout the fight, art and literature have served as indispensable tools in amplifying the voice of women. Take, for example, British author Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Room, which spoke out against social injustices that female writers have long faced.

Inspired by Woolf, Miroir Project is a platform with similar aspirations of empowering female creativity, though instead of female authors, their focus is on female photographers. The team behind the project believes that photography is a particularly fitting medium for the expression of feminity and that their platform offers a way for like-minded women photographers to meet, share ideas, and explore matters of identity together. These beliefs are the main impetus behind the project.

Lao Yan, the nickname of one of Miroir Project’s cofounders, says, “As I got older, I realized the importance of facilitating a space where like-minded individuals can meet others like them. Finding common ground with someone is like looking into a mirror, and if you look closely enough, you can gain a clearer picture of who you yourself are.”

Miroir Project’s other co-founder, who goes by the nickname of Liang Liang, met Lao Yan in 2016 when they were both working as photographers at a rock concert. They quickly became friends over their shared love of photography. After countless discussions, they realized that China lacked a platform dedicated to female photographers, and they decided to take the matter into their own hands with Miroir Project, which officially debuted in 2020.

From At Home with Family by photographer Liu Sidan, which took first prize at the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition.
From At Home with Family by photographer Liu Sidan, which took first prize at the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition.
From At Home with Family by photographer Liu Sidan, which took first prize at the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition.
From At Home with Family by photographer Liu Sidan, which took first prize at the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition.

Social and feminist issues are topics near and dear to Lao Yan and Liang Liang’s hearts. They’ve observed that Chinese girls are prone to struggling with low self-esteem and insecurity—which they believe is intrinsically linked with the patriarchal thought that has long permeated traditional Chinese society. “Whether in school or at home, girls are taught differently from boys,” she says. “Boys are taught to be confident, be competitive, and shoulder responsibility. Girls, on the other hand, are taught that their careers should come secondary to marriage, and it’s a belief that’s now ingrained into people. This fact has made girls overly conscious about their outward appearances. If a person is only focused on what they look like, it’s not surprising if they’re insecure.”

Lao Yan believes that Chinese women are shackled by too many stereotypes. They’re under constant scrutiny and assigned with a variety of expectations. Being subject to this constant barrage of outside opinions has a tremendous impact on how they feel about themselves. When they can’t meet the expectations of their family, teachers, or society, feelings of insecurity or inferiority are inevitable.

The duo believes that this unrelenting anxiety inflicted by society is silencing female voices in China, and in the face of these issues, it’s even more important for women to be heard. “Having a voice is crucial,” Lao Yan says. “It can help a person establish a safe space where they’re free to express themselves. When your voice can be heard, a person becomes more confident in expressing themselves. This is especially empowering for the marginalized.”

Miroir Project feature works from female photographers of all calibers—it doesn’t matter whether they’re a rookie shooter or a veteran photographer. Everyone is given a chance to be seen. For many, especially the lesser-known photographers, the feedback is incredibly encouraging. “Recognition is important,” Lao Yan says. “It’s infectious, and recognition can be handed down. It’s just a cycle of positive energy.”

From photographer Soojo Lee’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Soojo Lee’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Soojo Lee’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Soojo Lee’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.

Lao Yan lives in Fuzhou while Jing Jing lives in Shanghai, so most of their collaboration takes place online. Lao Yan focuses on marketing and discovering talents, while Jing Jing handles sponsorships and everything that’s design-related.

Since August of 2020, they’ve regularly posted photography showcases on their Weibo, WeChat, and Instagram accounts. Posts fall under four categories. Miroir Girls is the mainstay, which are posts that highlight different female photographers from around China. Miroir Reco, their earliest category, shares the works of overseas female photographers with Chinese audiences. Their upcoming category, Miroir Reflections, will offer Chinese translations of write-ups penned by female photographers from around the world.

Since the platform’s debut, the duo’s mailbox has been flooded with thousands of submissions. It’s hardly surprising—for many fledgling photographers, having their works shown in front of new audiences and seeing an outpouring of support can feel particularly rewarding. “It’s like a bonfire, one that’s been lit by everyone who’s come together to keep the flames of femininity stoked,” Lao Yan says. “We’ve seen so many female photographers, who went from being relatively unknown, to being discovered, and being confident as a result, of being more willing to express themselves. It’s uplifting to us to see how everyone embraces this common value and to give girls a sense of belonging. It’s given us a stronger sense of mission and will to keep our platform going.”

As their community grew, the duo decided to run a photography competition for Chinese female photographers. The inaugural competition kicked off in early 2021 and was open to all, no matter their background or experience. As long as they were a photography enthusiast with a similar mindset, they could participate. Over 300 applicants sent in their work and 30 photographers were shortlisted. The judges include Wang Shuai, the vice dean of Tianjin School of Art; Liu Jiaxing, one of the co-founders of Arbre Gallery, Ding Ding, one of the founders of Xiangyue. Aside from first, second, and third place prizes, separate awards were given out based on viewer favorites and honorary mentions. “Works were based on authenticity, on whether or not the works were narratively cohesive, and the potential of it,” Lao Yan explains.

From photographer Chen Ziqiu’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Chen Ziqiu’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Chen Ziqiu’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
王子嘻《比瞬间持续更长的时间》,获得「照镜子第一届女性摄影师大赛」三等奖
王子嘻《比瞬间持续更长的时间》,获得「照镜子第一届女性摄影师大赛」三等奖
王子嘻《比瞬间持续更长的时间》,获得「照镜子第一届女性摄影师大赛」三等奖

The shortlisted photographers showcased works that touched on a wide range of themes and topics. The first-place winner, photographer Liu Sidan, submitted a touching series dedicated to her parents, but her mom and dad appear in a surprising way: they’re only seen in large print-outs that Liu has made from old family photos. For Liu, who’s spent the majority of her adult life overseas, this was her way of revisiting her memories of family and her hometown.

Second place was a tie between photographer Soojo Lee and Chen Ziqiu. Lee’s project featured a series of moody scenes consumed by darkness, ranging from a snapped branch sitting in a puddle of mud to the silhouette of a bell peeking out from a tower’s arched windows.

Chen’s submission is similarly bleak, though not outwardly so. Her work reflected on the emptiness of life, and through her brightly lit snapshots, she sought to counteract the sense of despondence that haunted her.

Aside from the winners, plenty of other noteworthy photographers are featured on the shortlist.

From photographer Xiao Ruiyun’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Xiao Ruiyun’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Xiao Ruiyun’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Li Yilin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Li Yilin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Li Yilin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Li Yilin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.

Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was published in 1929, and with it, she established the idea of women building a “room” that exists outside of patriarchal structures. She advocates for women to express themselves, think independently, and live freely to achieve their full potential. It’s a piece of literature that has greatly influenced Lao Yan and Jing Jing, and in honor of it, they titled their upcoming exhibition—A Myriad of Rooms—after the essay. The exhibition will be held in Chengdu, Beijing, and Shanghai. “One of these ‘rooms’ means different things for different individuals,” Jing Jing says. “For me, a ‘room’ has multiple meanings. The first, female photographers need a ‘room’ that’s quiet from outside interference and influence, a place that’s theirs and private. This idea of a ‘room’ can also be a spiritual space where they can reflect on self-identity and themselves.

Lao Yan adds, “All of the works shown in the exhibition offer viewers a glimpse into these different rooms, private spaces where a myriad of emotions and viewpoints reside.”

From photographer Dawa Yangjin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Dawa Yangjin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Dawa Yangjin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.
From photographer Dawa Yangjin’s submission to the inaugural Miroir Project photography competition, which tied for second place.

“Our mission for starting was simple,” Jing Jing says. “We believe that the photography world hasn’t always been very welcoming for women; it’s something we’ve experienced ourselves. We just want to push the dial.”

For Jing Jing and Lao Yan, there’s not much difference between being behind the lens or in front of the lens. Miroir Project puts their beliefs to action and reassures women everywhere that they’re free to express themselves, to believe in themselves, to chase after their dreams. Without the shackles of self-doubt, they’ll become that much closer to who they see in the mirror.

A Myriad of Rooms
Itinerant Exhibition

10/05~10/31
Kinmirai Hostel Gallery
Building 7, U37 Creative Warehouse,
Shuinianhe South Third Street,
Jinjiang District, Chengdu

11/03~11/30
3.0Space
155A, Caochangdi,
Chaoyang District, Beijing

12/03~12/31
YuanSe Art Space
212, 4th Floor, No.50 Moganshan Road,
Putuo District, Shanghai


Instagram: @miroirproject

Weibo: ~/照镜子MiroirProject

Wechat: 照镜子Miroir Project

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