Photographer Calvin Ma (‘13) and stylist Katie Qian (’15) are fashion’s newest power couple.
Ma, a photography student at California State University, Long Beach, and Qian, a psychology student at the University of California, Los Angeles, have been working together only since last year, when Qian encouraged Ma to pursue fashion photography.
“[Katie] pushed me to try it out and I’m glad she did because it gave me a lot of experience shooting in a totally different style than I normally do,” Ma said.
Ma generally shoots lifestyle and portraiture, usually senior, graduation and family portraits.
“Capturing fashion the right way is a lot harder than it looks, and I love that challenge,” Ma said.
Qian, on the other hand, has been in the fashion industry since she was 15, when she interned for former stylist Aimee Bradley in San Diego. And in her senior year of high school, Qian got the opportunity to work as an intern for Nicki Minaj’s and Beyoncé’s video “Feelin’ Myself” — a “great project to have on [her] resume” but her hardest project yet.
“Since I was an intern I did all the pack mule work,” Qian said. “I was working from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. each day carrying, unpacking, organizing and repacking repeatedly what must have been like 100 garment bags and running up a giant hill in Malibu to carry clothes to the team.”
Indeed, it seems like the projects Qian has enjoyed the most have been the ones in which she has had to work the hardest — sometimes for no pay.
“Some of my favorite projects are … the unpaid collaborations with teams that really just allow me to do whatever I want creatively without the necessary consideration of the commercial marketability that comes with most paid shoots,” Qian said.
Ma, drawing inspiration from fashion photographers like Tim Walker and Benjamin Vnuk, also values the opportunity for creative liberty with his projects.
“I strive to push the envelope of photography like they do and to really think outside the box,” Ma said.
Ma and Qian started working together after Ma visited a shoot Qian was doing with photographer Bobby Prom. One day, while Qian was working on the shoot, she asked if Ma could assist; Prom “was more than gracious and accepted the offer.”
“On top of that, he actually let me shoot my own photos after he finished up with his own shooting, which is pretty rare to see in the world of fashion photography,” Ma said. “Most people try to hide their trade secrets and techniques so I was very lucky to work with him.”
Ma and Qian have achieved success in fashion, but they have also run into their share of difficulty in the industry, most memorably with a project called “Zhepyr,” which Ma cites as one of his “biggest learning experiences.”
Ma and Qian had to create a concept for the shoot, scout locations, put together a team of people. And after all their work, they ran into yet another obstacle.
“It was quite a challenge and we ran into issues like getting kicked out of a location that I scouted out even though I was given permission to photograph there prior to the shoot,” Ma said. “I had to change up the whole concept.”
Luckily, Ma found a few locations nearby that worked, with the help of Ma and Qian’s makeup artist.
“She called up her brother who live nearby and we were able to get roof access at the building he was staying at in downtown Los Angeles,” Ma said.
Although Ma and Qian continue to work together — they make monthly trips to Barnes & Noble, where they “sit on the floor and flip through all the British magazines for a couple hours,” according to Qian — each of them also pursue their own individual projects.
Ma recently submitted a portfolio for his Bachelor of Fine Arts major in photography, which was accepted, and is looking at working with emerging artists.
“I am looking to do a series of collaborative projects with emerging artists — stylists, makeup artists, dancers, et cetera — soon, so that I can hopefully cultivate a small community of artists that support each other’s growth and pretty much create together,” Ma said. “It’s not necessarily fashion, but a goal I have to accomplish in the future.”
Although Qian has been getting asked to “bigger stuff,” she has cut back on the hours she spends styling to focus on schoolwork and her dance crew. Still, Qian has been working often with Local Wolves Magazine as their on-site stylist.
“With them I’ve been styling some influencers like Jack Baran and Lia Marie Johnson, and … musicians like Tori Kelly and Gallant,” Qian said. “I [also] have a lot of editorial work that has yet to be released.”
In the future, Qian would like to style celebrities and do some editorial work, while Ma would like his career to take him around the world, but it is clear that their work ethics, combined and separately, will take them wherever they want to go.