what pixy liao’s photography tells us about love
Her photography has won acclaim for its surreal take on the conventions of heteronormative relationships.
Play station, 2013. Photography Pixy Liao
Pixy Liao: From rising stars to industry heavyweights, i-D meets the photographers offering unique perspectives on the world around them.
If it wasn’t for the film Blow-Up, Pixy Liao may never have become a photographer. Working as a graphic designer in Shanghai and deeply dissatisfied with the lack of creative control she had over her own work, after watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult classic about a fashion photographer loosely based on David Bailey, she was inspired to make a career change.
Completely self-taught in graphic design, Pixy had no formal arts education, but managed to score a place on an MA course in photography at the University of Memphis. “Because I had no arts education, I had a lot of catching up to do,” she says. “It took me three years, but I think it’s well worth the time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know the possibilities I could achieve with photography.”
A decade later, now based in New York, Pixy’s photography has gained global recognition and critical acclaim for its idiosyncratic charm and razor sharp commentary on patriarchal archetypes in traditional heterosexual relationships. Her ongoing series, “Experimental Relationship” captures vignettes of her relationship with long-term partner Moro. Moro, who’s a few years Pixy's junior, is a key inspiration behind the work. “[The series] began when I noticed that my new relationship with a younger man was seen as somewhat abnormal by others," Pixy says. "I started it as a way to explain to others how this relationship is natural for us.”
As the relationship developed, so too did the images. “In the beginning, I was very overpowering in the images, as I was in our early relationship. Now we have grown together for more than ten years. Our relationship changed to become a more balanced stage. My photos also reflect that and I now start to focus a little more on myself.” Sometimes alone, other times draped across one another naked -- cable shutter-release always visible in shot -- as individual images Pixy captures a lighthearted pastiche of relationships, as a whole the project makes a meaningful comment on how we expect women and men to behave in a couple. “I’m interested in intimate relationships. How a couple can collaborate as a unit to create something together. Photography is a game for us. I want to see how we can enjoy ourselves through taking the next photo.”
Technically, “not so much” has changed with regards to how the images are created since the project began, Pixy says. “I still use the same camera I bought when I was in school. In the beginning, it was very straightforward. Moro is the actor and I’m the director and I only expected him to do exactly as what I had in mind.” But as time has gone on, she’s become much more controlling over what he does. “I now encourage him to improvise. When I choose an image, I used to be so concerned with the composition of the photograph and every little detail. Now I think the meaning of the photograph is more important. It can be less perfect, I don’t mind as much anymore.”
“For Your Eyes Only”, a splinter project off “Experimental Relationship”, takes an even more intimate look at her and her partner’s bodies. “I wanted to get away with being in a certain role for this series, so that people wouldn’t need to think too much about the people in the photographs. They can react based on the images itself, not on the ideology behind it. I take the photos with the same personality and attitude as ‘Experimental Relationship’, but I’m more focused on the colour and composition.”
A multidisciplinary artist, elsewhere Pixy has created a breadth of different artistic projects. Her self-explanatorily titled “A Collection of Penises” and “Men as Bags” are two two notable examples of her tongue-in-cheek approach.
Photography Pixy Liao