Shanghai is a city of entrepreneurship. In our series, 'Shanghai Entrepreneurs,' we talk to people from different backgrounds and businesses about their motivations, experiences and what they have learned along the way.
Based in Shanghai since 2012, Russian photographer Alicia Shi has been producing striking images for various international fashion brands and magazines since she started her professional photography career in China. Here, Alicia Shi tells us why she thinks China is a good place for young creatives like her to launch their own business.
Tell us about your background and how did you become interested in photography.
Like many families in my country, the older generation are very conservative and still have that ‘Soviet mentality,’ especially when it comes to career choices. From a young age, I was focused on getting a serious profession, so I pursued a degree in economics.
I wasn’t interested in photography until the second year of university, where I attended an open class in the Photography Museum of my hometown. From that point on, I started to explore with this artistic medium.
Why did you decide to come to Shanghai to pursue a career in fashion photography? When I was finishing school in Russia, my best friend had been living here and she was totally fascinated by the speed of life and the growth of Shanghai. I decided to join her and to explore new countries while I am young. By the time I graduated, I was sure a career in economics wasn’t what I wanted, so I just bought a one-way ticket to China. It turned out to be a very good decision since the Chinese fashion market was, and is still, rapidly developing and it’s full of opportunities.
How difficult was it to get started here in the beginning?
During the first three years, I worked in a photo studio, which helped me to understand the market and develop my photography skills through the practice before I started my own company in 2016. What are some common challenges that people or companies providing photography services face in China?
I would say the interaction with clients is one of the most interesting ‘elements’ of our business. You can also call it a ‘challenge,’ but that depends on how you see it.
Creative people must also be excellent communicators, especially when it comes to commercial project as clients are not always sure about what they want. Some of them are also not familiar with the fashion industry, so you have to educate them in addition to providing photo services. Bureaucracy and all the paperwork related to setting up and running your company are challenges too.
What are the most important qualities to have as a professional fashion photographer in China?
Guanxi is one of the secrets to success for many industries, including fashion. You have to be open-minded, respectful and friendly to create the connection with your potential clients.
Photographers have to be easy to work with, and they have to be client-oriented. I believe if you really want to deliver high-quality result and to make your client happy, you are the best person to work with. You have to love what you do. Photography is not only about the techniques, but it’s also an art. How would you describe your style of photography and how is it unique from others?
I love to experiment and trying out new lighting techniques, new locations, new composition. I like to play with colors and shapes, which can make the image more memorable. A photo has to grab your attention and to make you think.
What advice do you have for other professional photographers thinking about starting a career in China?
This market is full of opportunities, but you have to work hard for them. The more you work on your technical skills, learn about classic photography, study magazines and new editorials, the better you become. Don't be afraid to try new things, and don't put yourself in the box just because you want to be trendy or to be commercially attractive. Challenge yourself and stay passionate about what you do.
All images courtesy of Alicia Shi. Visit her website for more of her work.