Growing up on social media, self portraiture has always been with Yun Ping (contains nudity)

The Madrid-based photographer takes photos of himself and others, moving between staged and spontaneous setups.

9 May 2024

Performance is an interesting part of Yun Ping’s practice. All self-portraiture involves a certain level of it – setting up a scenario and posing, or choosing to not pose, are actions associated with the stage. But Yun is unique in that he also gets in front of the camera with other subjects, playing alongside them, like in Two tigers crossing a river, where he occupies the frame alongside his friend Chen Zhen, crouching while shooting.

So while Yun Ping has an entire project, 回家 (huí jiā), and practice dedicated to self portraiture, it’s not as easy to split his work into these two neat threads: self portraiture and portraits of others. For those of us that got used to ‘sharing’ images of ourselves and our friends at a young age, we know that such a clear distinction doesn’t always exist. Both can be used to communicate ideas of the self. Born in Hubei, China in 1998 and spending his youth in the Basque Country, Yun grew up alongside social media. “I used to take pictures of me and my friends to post them later on,” he tells us. “It was kind of an excuse to approach people. I like to say that, over time, I just kept on doing it.”


Yun Ping: The Passion of the Cut Sleeve (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2022)

Today, Yun works with no set formula or process when it comes to setting up a self portrait. “It depends,” he says. “They all navigate between staging and spontaneity as they come from the exploration that develops in self-knowledge.” 回家 (huí jiā), a self portrait series Yun has worked on since 2017 explores the self at its most fundamental level – how we occupy space. “The project shows the process of my gender transition journey, delving into the concept of intimacy while understanding the body as a place to inhabit.” It was developed at the different households Yun has lived in between The Basque Country and Madrid.

Whether Yun takes an image in his bedroom, or in a gallery surrounded by people, the energy of instinct and personal exploration is always present in the final image – without clear indication of how much planning it took to achieve. “Self-portraiture allows me to get to know myself on a deeper level, it is a really healing practice.” It’s no surprise that the photographer’s major inspiration is Robert Mapplethorpe, whose portfolio was full of mid-action motions, like a kiss.

Yun’s portraits feature the same spirit of improvisation. The Passion of The Cut Sleeve explores the origin of the term ‘Cut Sleeve’, a euphemism for gay relationships, which dates back to a story from the Han Dynasty. With Yun entering the frame once more, the photograph shows his ability to not only play with compositions, but craft an image with every tool at his disposal, including his own presence.


Yun Ping: Two tigers crossing a river (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2023)


Yun Ping: First time on drag (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2019)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait at El Palomar (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2023)


Yun Ping: Self-portraiture performance Candy Darling (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2023)


Yun Ping: The body as a suit (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2019)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait at my new place (Copyright © Yun Ping)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait being reborn (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2019)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait masturbating (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2023)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait with sock as a penis (Copyright © Yun Ping)


Yun Ping: Self-portraiture performance during 回家 exhibition at El Local, Madrid (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2023)


Yun Ping: Self-portrait with dildo (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2021)

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Yun Ping: Self-portrait in my bedroom (Copyright © Yun Ping, 2021)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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