Thursday, January 08, 2009

Photo Flash



I saw this amazing photo while flipping through fashion designer Vivienne Tam's beautifully illustrated book on Chinese culture China Chic (ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 2005). The book was marked down to $8 from $26, and I subsequently learned this edition was out of print to boot, but I must confess I picked it up for this photo alone, which mesmerized me and made me mutter a stupified "WTF???" I mean, China's a traditionally conservative nation, and was especially so in its pre-Olympics, pre-global economic power days. Like during its Maoist heyday, circa the Cultural Revolution (which this photo looks to be from). I wondered: is the woman a prostitute, a Shanghai Lil? Is she flashing some party official or dignitary? Or is she trying to hitch a ride from the mini-Mao dude in the golf cart, using a variation on Claudette Colbert's thumb-with-benefits technique from It Happened One Night? Or is she mimicking Marilyn Monroe's iconic upskirt moment from The Seven Year Itch?


Skirting the issue?

And speaking of Mao, I love how his head, hanging from a banner on the background wall, seems to hover over the woman's shoulder. Is the Chairman inadvertently getting a sneak peek? And were any of the soldiers marching in the background checking her out during her "I see London/I see France" flash? If a picture is worth a thousand words, some pictures are worth a thousand questions.

(Incidentally, China Chic - far from being risque photoflipper for prurient minds - is a fascinating book about Chinese fashion, culture, iconography and language. I highly recommend it!)

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