Hello! Can you please start by introducing yourself and the work that you do?
My full name is Siqiao Meng but I just go by Qiao. I do photography and creative direction. As of now, I have been doing that for about two years.
Have you always been interested in photography?
Photography wasn’t a hobby for me, I didn’t even have a camera until I officially started as a photographer. I got into photography actually through film. I was thinking about going into the film industry so I was learning about that and trying to get on film sets. Since I was still learning I couldn’t do lighting or production, and the first set I went to needed a behind the scenes photographer so that’s what I did. The pictures turned out great, they used them and that’s when I knew that I could do this.
The thing that attracted me the most to film was the visual element of it so I decided to switch to photography after that. Once I learned the basics it came pretty natural to me.
How would you describe your photography?
It is hard to say because I am very early in my career so my style is still in development. I don’t want to give a name to it, but people definitely look at my work and feel a certain way about it.
I wouldn’t say I am experimenting exactly because I know the general direction I am working in. It is what I like, that is really the only standard. If I make an image, no matter if it is commissioned or a personal project, it will be something that I like enough to put out.
What do you think makes a photograph successful? Is there anything specific that you look for?
I feel like you can look at an image for less than a second and know if it is good or not. It is really intuitive, I think. I look at a lot of references and at other photographers’ work. A lot of the time even if their styles are not the same as my own, I can still admire and respect their work.
Do you shoot digitally, with film, or both?
Both, I don’t have a preference. A lot of people have asked me what I shoot with but I don’t think the technology is that important. For me it is more about the visual in my mind and the equipment is just a means to an end. If you know the image, colors, and textures you want, you can get there no matter what kind of tools you use.
Is that a difficult process for you to transfer that image in your mind into something physical?
The image might come naturally to my head but the making of it still requires a lot of work, and a lot of the time that is teamwork. The makeup, hair, model, styling is all crucial to the image. It is a team effort, especially for fashion photography. The before and after is more about me but the middle, the making of the image, is a collaboration. With creative direction, you have to make every detail, to get a team together and choose the right people, that is all crucial. Once that is done though and it is the actual day of the shoot, you just do it. You know that things will come out a certain way because the preparation was good.
Can you talk more about what creative direction looks like for you?
In a sense I might even like creative direction more than photography. It is really about looking at other people’s work and seeing if it is the right project for them. If you put a certain makeup artist, stylist, and model together, what would that bring? What kind of effect will that have? If it is a commission project, will that work for this brand or this designer?
Did you start with creative direction after you began photographing or did you start working on those around the same time?
The same time. I didn’t study photography so when I first started out no one wanted to work with me. I had no work so I had to do everything for myself.
Even for shoots I have now I am the creative director because I really want to keep that control. A lot about photography is also technique but I didn’t have a formal education around photography so I would make up for technique by having great ideas.
What does your editing process look like? I noticed you have worked with collage in your photography as well.
I think it is similar to how I see the technology side of photography. What matters most to me is having the right skills to get the image in my head out on paper. I don’t even know how to talk about my editing process because it is just that I have something in my head and I move buttons around until I get that.
Since you have these images so clear in your head beforehand, is there a lot of planning that goes into the creation of the work?
It depends on the work itself. A general answer would be yes, a lot of planning. Honestly every fashion photoshoot requires a lot of planning beforehand to make sure that everyone has the same idea.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
There is a Japanese photographer, Nobuyashi Araki, whose images are pretty violent and sexual but I take a lot of inspiration from him. He is the first photographer that I ever read a book about, when I first started photography I read his biography. It is very inspirational and is different from how Western photography is. Him and Paul Cézanne as well as Dazed Magazine in general, but especially before the 2000s.
I know you have only been working in photography and creative direction for a few years but have you seen your work change over that time in any specific ways, either as you became more familiar with the tools or found ways of working?
Yes, of course. I was very lucky, I have a friend who was already a great photographer in the industry so I assisted him. I was just trying to learn more in terms of techniques and I let him see my work and he thought it was pretty good so he recommended me to agencies for test shoots. I was pushed to a place where I had to be good because I didn’t want to mess up the opportunities with the big agencies. I had to learn everything by doing it.
I’m curious about your interest in fashion photography, specifically. What drew you to fashion over other types of photography?
I grew up in China and they have a different exam system so I got out of school earlier. I got my first internship at Vogue China right out of high school and that is how I got into fashion. I was their youngest intern ever, I was only fifteen or sixteen so my parents had to sign documents for me to be able to work there. I sent out about 100 emails applying to different companies and they were the first to reply.
I also have friends that are into photography and when I was younger I was a model so I knew photographers through that too. At one point it just clicked that I should try photography for myself. I think all of the experience that I have built up to working in fashion photography. I feel like the barrier of entry for photography is really low because we all have phones and cameras are very affordable, everyone’s hobby is photography. I do photography as a career so while I also like to do behind the scenes photography for films, the opportunities just didn’t come my way for that like it did for fashion.
I genuinely love every art form. I studied music when I was younger, I love the business side of fashion, also design, tattoos, all that. I love art in every aspect of it. I feel like photography is just the one that I chose to be my career.
Do you think you’ll explore some of those other creative mediums and outlets in the future? I also imagine that creative direction allows you to dabble in other art forms outside of photography.
Of course. In my spare time I definitely experiment with a lot of other mediums but I am pretty sure that I am going to continue with image-making as my career. When I think of a career I think of something that I just feel the need to do frequently. It hurts if I don’t do it, I would never be bored or grow to hate it over time. For me that is photography.
Interview by Riley Gunderson