Sirui Ma gets the work most internet dudes dream about. Based in NYC, Sirui has photographed lookbooks and editorials for clients from Vogue China to Nepenthes New York and Peir Wu. Our NY-based staff member was originally going to interview Sirui over coffee, but she recently departed to London so we caught up via email instead.
I was surprised to find out you're originally from Beijing. At what age did you move to the United States?
I was fifteen and anticipated that my life would overnight become like one of those cliché high school chick flick movies, but it didn’t go that way (thankfully?). I ended up in Forest Hills, Queens. It was a strange time.
How did you end up in NYC?
Both my parents are journalists, and they were sent to different bureaus for work for four years at a time. I went to NYC with my mum when she got assigned there in 2011.
You're currently in London-- are you working on anything in specific or perhaps a vacation?
I actually decided to drop out of university in NYC to restart a BA in photography here. I feel like needed to do this, as it would give me more time and space to develop my work.
When you're not traveling, what's your typical day like? Coffee in the morning?
I make myself a coffee first thing in the morning! If it’s a day off I’d probably meet up with a friend for a nice meal and maybe more coffee. Then walk around somewhere, a park or something.
I first found out about your work through friends of friends' Instagram. I specifically remember some super icy shots of a glass elevator for a Peir Wu collection. Where were those taken?
Those were taken in the Hayden Planetarium in the Museum of Natural History. Kevin rode in that elevator probably about ten times. It was so fun to shoot there because I blended in with all the tourists and their big cameras, so no one knew what we were really doing.
How did you come to photograph most of the Peir Wu's lookbooks?
I had been a fan of Peir’s work for some time. A mutual friend connected us and we’ve been great friends ever since. I think we just really trust and understand each other, so we don’t need to articulate much to make something together.
At some point you were Atsushi Nishijima's assistant, how did you two meet? Sidenote-- I keep all my LOITER mags in their cellophane wrapping.
So do I! Funny story. A friend of mine introduced me to his work, and I decided to message him to see if he needed an intern or assistant. We scheduled to meet a couple months later, at a Le Pain Quotidien near my college, and just chatted. I ended up working for him for about two years until I moved to London. Jima is a great mentor, friend, and inspiration to me.
Multiple people in Portland showed me your recent Nepenthes editorial 'Days Of Candy'. They were fanatic about the clothing and photos, including myself. How did that editorial come to fruition?
I really love that project as well. I spotted the model, Sam, at a party a few months prior and somehow stumbled upon her Instagram so I messaged her to see if she’d like to shoot. Michael [Baquerizo] and I are always bouncing ideas off each other as well, and things just fell into place. I had been meaning to shoot something in midtown because I love how chaotic it always is, and how someone can get away with looking really out of place because of that reason (like wearing fall looks on a really hot day with a whole gang of people following you). Michael styled it with only men’s pieces for the looks, and it was perfect. Dream team.
I copped the Running Water book via Post Post Works right when it came out. The tourist snap style photos were refreshing. Do you have any other print or photo projects coming up?
Thank you so much! I really did feel like a tourist in my home country after having lived abroad for so long… I am working on an iPhone photo booklet composed of mostly Chinatown geriatric looks I’ve spotted over the last two years in NY, which I’m really excited about. I’m also thinking about making another book as a school project here, but it’s still in the development stage.
Any plans on coming to Portland?
I’ve heard so many great things about Portland! Would love to visit at some point. Maybe next summer!
Keep us posted, thanks Sirui!