A self-described “Chinese woman who takes photographs of naked Western men”, photographer and PhD student at the RCA Yushi Li had April’s Nicer Tuesdays audience laughing as she discussed her recent series, My Tinder Boys. During her talk, Yushi gave a frank account of what the project entailed – “I photographed different men I met through Tinder eating naked in their own kitchens”.
To make the photographs, Yushi needed willing participants and “messaged more than 300 men on Tinder.” Given the nature of the dating platform, the responses she received invariably asserted the men’s own agenda, with one message reading “that depends, is there a chance of sex in return?” Basing her photographic research and practice in casual dating allowed Yushi to set up a sexually charged dynamic whereby she could “play with the power relationship inherent in the gaze”. As she said, “I was both the violator who tried to invade their private space and also the desired object”.
The aim of the project, she told the audience, was to create images that focus on the male body as a desirable object seen from a female perspective. “Women have always been something pretty, something to be looked at,” she said. By photographing men in domestic spaces, naked, vulnerable and bathed in soft flesh tones, Yushi engineers situations in which she is the dominant party. She acknowledged that “what attracts me the most is not really the body but the fantasy of being in control”.
Yushi also introduced the audience to her new project, Your Reservation is Confirmed, which takes My Tinder Boys a step further by inserting herself into the images as both a viewer and a photographed subject, so that “the power is always shifting between me and the man and the viewer of the image”. For this series, she booked “the ideal home” via Airbnb and “the ideal man” via a life modelling website. Your Reservation is Confirmed attempts, Yushi told us, to dramatise “a gap between the ideal – what I want – and the real – what I actually get”, for often the pictured “ideals” she viewed online fell short of her expectations in real life.
The humorous and playful element in Yushi’s work is not to be understated. In the same way that dating apps have introduced a recreational or entertainment factor into casual romance, Yushi said of her work “it’s a bit like a game for me – and I quite enjoy doing it”.