Yu Hang-7.jpg

The Five Elements

   The concept of the Five Elements is central to Chinese culture’s understanding of the physical world and natural phenomena. It also offers a guiding philosophy for how to live a good life. The concept has helped me personally in exploring and answering some of life’s fundamental questions, and I believe it also explains much of what has happened in my own experience. In The Five Elements I illustrate this important concept using the language of fashion photography. The project merges two of my personal interests, but I also believe fashion photography offers a strong visual medium for the expression of highly abstract ideas such as the Five Elements.

   The Five Elements are metal, wood, fire, earth, and water. On a literal level, each of these can either generate or destroy the others. Water can extinguish fire and rust metal, for example, but nourishes wood; wood feeds fire. Earth can absorb water but can be broken up by wood; however, metal can chop wood and fire can burn it. Yet metal can be melted by fire. In this project, five sets of photographs illustrate the fundamental qualities of each element, reflected in their styling, set design, and even my choice of models.

   For example, I chose a male model with a strong, sharp face to illustrate metal. To illustrate water, I collaborated with a fashion designer whose dresses are very silky and flowing, like water itself. The overall palette of each set of images is also specific to the element it illustrates: the images for water are primarily blue, the images for fire are red, and the images for wood are green. Styling details also matched the specific element; for instance, the model’s makeup for the metal image was silver, the images’ overall quality that of high fashion. In the images illustrating earth, soil was used both as a physical prop and as the basis for makeup, and the feeling of the images was more casual.

   As I worked on the project, I found myself associating the different elements with specific personality traits in people―the aggressiveness of fire, for example, or the flexible, yielding quality of water―and with the ways different kinds of people interact with each other. The experience confirmed my belief that the concept of the Five Elements can help people make sense of the world, both human and natural. My hope is that through my photographs viewers will begin to discover the wisdom of this age-old Chinese philosophy.


Photographer: Kam Lin

Designer: Xin(Cindy) Lin

Model: Hang Yu

Makeup: Kam

Assistant: Yangzi Huang