Mengci Yu is a Chinese-born photographer currently residing in New York City. She has done an incredible amount of things including studying fashion design, moving to Paris, visiting just under 30 countries, working in the fashion industry, moving to New York City and changing careers. All of this before reaching the age of 30.
In reality she has just started working as a fashion photographer, but she certainly has the drive to go far. We had the change to catch up with her and ask her about her life experiences and her photography career so far. here's what she had to say...
Solstice: Could you give us some information on your story so far? Where do you come from? Which countries have you lived in and why have you lived in them?
Mengci: I was born and raised in China and studied fashion design there. I moved to Paris in 2013 and continued my studies. After I graduated I worked in the fashion industry, working jobs such as Assistant Art Director, Stylist, Designer and working in a showroom / retail.
I’ve spent a few stints in New York City, for a few months each time. I learned to speak English there and also studied at the School of Visual Arts. The city is amazing and is great for meeting cool people, I’m still obsessed with NYC.
I have also lived in Athens, Greece and go back every so often. I fell in love with guy there and stayed with him. The city is great and has a very interesting culture. To be honest I do love Greece as a whole, the weather is fantastic and the country itself is so beautiful, with its many many islands.
I am originally from the north of China, but I have spent some time in Beijing. It’s definitely my favourite city in China. It’s a little like NYC, the people there all have big personalities and are very interesting, but are a little warmer. It’s easier to talk to people there, and you can find yourself conversing and laughing with complete strangers for a good while.
I am a big traveller and have visited 25 countries so far. My second passion is photography and I’m lucky enough to call it my job now.
Solstice: You first started out studying fashion design and then moved into photography. How did this happen? What made you change the medium for which you are primarily creative?
Mengci: I always liked photography, as I tend to constantly take photos wherever I go. I take photos of many things, buildings, signs, people, friends. I always wanted to be a photographer but it was a huge deal when I was younger and I wasn’t prepared to change professional back then. I was working for a fashion company and the work environment was very intense, in the end it pushed me to quit my job and do what I really wanted to do.
Solstice: Which photographers/artists have influenced your work the most?
Mengci: Photographers such as Irving Penn and Peter Lindbergh are great and I greatly admire their work. Their work is timeless. When you look at their pictures you can feel something from the model’s eyes.
Solstice: Tell us about your experience working with KIKIXUE and FIRWANG in China?
Mengci: It was great! One is a talented photographer and the other is a fantastic make up artist. They both have similar backgrounds, and are from Chengdu. Both lived in Paris for a while, and currently work between Paris and China. They are very inspiring and are also very honest and sure about what they want in the visual world. Together we all worked very hard and created some excellent photos.
Solstice: Which one do you prefer, shooting outside on location or in the studio?
Mengci: I prefer to shoot outside on location. Well, whenever it’s not too cold!
Solstice: Do you think you’ve now found what your favourite artistic medium is (photography) and if so do you think you’ll stay being a photographer for the rest of your life or do you think you could move on to other types of creative jobs?
Mengci: Yes, so far being a photographer is very satisfying but I am also into movies. So cinematography could be something I take up soon.
I also enjoy cooking. I was influenced by my mum as she is a great cook. I imagine I could easily run a small restaurant, making very healthy food, and juice and coffee in the future. That would be nice. I like seeing beautiful, interesting people gathering around just because of certain place, that’s amazing, it’s like a source of the energy.
Solstice: What would you like to be doing and where would you like to be in 5 and 10 years time?
Mengci: Be a fashion +fine art photographer, shoot covers and have my own exhibitions, make beautiful images. New York, New York, New York.
Solstice: You’ve not been photographing for long (just over a year), so what have you learned in that short amount of time? Have you found it difficult to learn things about fashion photography?
Mengci: I’ve learned various studio set ups and how to use different types of lighting. Shoot with natural light and studio lighting. I’ve learned about the different masters of photography and basic history. I’ve also learned all about different camera settings and retouching techniques, of course.
I’m quite a quick learner and it’s not something I find particularly difficult. The hardest part was learning various studio lighting set ups because my memory is not that great haha!
Solstice: What is the biggest challenge you have come across so far in your photography career?
Mengci: Lighting outside has been a challenge, but a good one. I also find that creating a good relationship with the model is very important and something that I am looking to improve. Shooting people is like therapy, every time I shoot with a new person I need to get to know them in a very short amount of time. That’s why I like to talk a lot and ask them a lot of questions before the actual shoot. You get to know each other a little bit in a relaxed environment before the more intense part, the photo shoot. Most people have given me good feedback on this, and it makes me very happy to know that they appreciate my style.
Solstice: Do you have a style that you’re known for/stick to or do you try do photograph in many different styles, not sticking to a certain aesthetic? From what I’ve seen so far, you tend to keep the lighting quite clean and simple, and have quite an expressive model / styling.
Mengci: Not really. I do shoot with natural light a lot but at this moment in time I like to experiment with different styles. It may may take more time for me to develop my own style that I stick to for shoots.
Interview conducted by Declan Rice