How do couples declare their mutual love in public these days? In Beijing, sweethearts have traded in traditional displays of affection for a more fashionable mode of expression – matchy-matchy outfits. The trend – first popularized in Korea – seemed to be everywhere Erik Naumann looked during his two-month stint in the Chinese capital. The Montreal-based photographer was there to learn Mandarin as part of his school program. Everyday after class, he and his friends wandered around the streets of Xidan to take photos. “The couple clothing really caught my eye and I started shooting more and more couples, and it grew into this series which I turned into a photo magazine project for school.”
Each time he spotted people in identical ensembles, he ran up to them and mustered up his best Mandarin for “I like your clothes! Can I take your photo?” Almost everyone agreed, but he had to work quickly. “I was shooting with a Hasselblad 500 so I had to be ready to light meter every shot and change film after every 12 photos,” he said. “I love the results from that camera though.”
Coming from a culture where individualism is the norm, Naumann found these couples “visually arresting”. Save for Hollywood pairs snapped by paparazzi in matchy-matchy threads, celebrating one’s uniqueness is the way to go in the West. “It lets you get to deeper questions about culture, human nature and our values,” he said. “At first you think it’s something that makes the East and the West different. But then I’ll see an older couple in my country wearing matching tracksuits and think ‘Aha!’, it’s something that we share.”
To see more of Erik Naumann’s work, check out www.eriknaumann.com.
Also read: Exploring the heart of Beijing by train
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Smile magazine.