In ShangHigh, European fashion photographer Jonathan de Villiers plays the concept of “constructed couture” to its literal and conceptual limit, using Chinese labourers as high-fashion models for designer suits, shooting the resulting Vogues Hommes International spread in dusty concrete-and-I-beam work sites. De Villiers' choice of site has been led by the symbols of modern Shanghai’s excessiveness: the frantic construction and the enormous expansion of the urban area. Yet these elements, thousands of miles away, also resonate in the urban landscape of Toronto’s King West area, dotted as it is with a mix of construction sites and high-end boutiques.
Though he is unquestionably a fashion photographer, de Villiers is certainly not typical within his realm. He is well known for subverting the codes of his genre. In a series shot in Kenya, he satirized the role of actress or model as UN Special Envoy and the neocolonial conventions of fashion shoots in Africa. In another piece, de Villiers photographed a couple of prostitutes in Amsterdam’s red-light district modelling new Dutch fashion in the windows and rooms where they usually ply their trade. As his admirers have pointed out, in a climate where just about everyone in fashion is “chasing the campaign” via conservative editorial photography, more critical or challenging work is disappointingly rare.
Jonathan de Villiers, born in London in 1968, currently lives in Paris. After working in a commercial photographic lab and studying philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge, he became a fashion photographer. He has worked for British, Italian and French Vogue, Wallpaper, Numero, the New York Times Magazine and the fashion houses of Anne Klein and Alessandro Dell’Acqua, among many others. His work has been shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Institutes of Contemporary Art in London and Boston, Festival International de Mode et de Photographie, Hyères and the Rencontres d’Arles, where he received the No Limit Award.
Michel Mallard was the artistic director for ShangHigh.