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Why I Photograph Drag Queens in Beijing

Photographer Tom Selmon explains his fascination with China’s drag and queer culture.

Sexuality and gender fluidity in China are very much “alive” concepts set within the country’s rapidly changing social landscape. British Beijing-based documentary photographer Tom Selmon is one artist keeping a close eye, literally, on China’s evolving relationship with non-binary identification.

Selmon follows alternative youth culture and has created an impressive body of work that explores street fashion, drag culture and the cultural context of modern-day Beijing.

Tom Selmon spoke to us about his move from London to Beijing and his fascination with the “individual beauty” of drag queens:

It may sound silly, but I just thought photography would be something I’d be rather good at. I’ve always wanted to create things, even when I was younger, and photography allows you to create something instantly.

I was previously based in London—shooting fashion, among other things. Aside from editorial undertakings, I was attempting to expand my focus and shoot different scenes in London, such as the drag and LGBT. I am gay myself and therefore the ‘bond’ or affiliation was already there.

One friend of mine, already living in Beijing, told me about everything going on there, the changes in society and I thought I’d check it out.

I discovered after arriving in Beijing, that the photographic possibilities were absolutely fantastic. So I stayed. Opposed to traditional Chinese societal norms, the generation born post-1990 are far more open, and open-minded, about the concepts of gender, sex and sexuality. Which, in turn, is great for me as a photographer who aims to document all sorts of people. For me, these Chinese post-90s certainly stand out from the massive Chinese crowds.

I am a photographer of people. I like to document people from all walks and scenes of life. I do especially adore male beauty, the definitions of the male. That’s probably also why I think drag queens often look striking.

When makeup touches male bone structure, I think it’s magical. I like extreme beauty as well as soft, natural beauty. It’s less of a fascination with drag, but definitely a real fascination with men.

I simply enjoy focusing on unique faces and people. Bringing out, again, their individual beauty.

Some type of gender or sexual revolution, as I’ve called it before, is taking place across the streets of Beijing. The city and its people have some kind of ‘flow’ going for them. Both gender and sexual borders are being crossed and are, in fact, slowly fading.

They are putting themselves out there. They dare to bare themselves. Which is exactly that what makes them very so attractive to my lens. It’s a kind of innate beauty for me. One that also shows in the face.

Tom Selmon’s online portfolio

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