Shanghai-born photography artist Shen Wei renders a quiet, intimate world where nude bodies, nature, and society coexist in a delicate balance.
Shen's signature subject is himself, usually undressed, in a moment of great calm. For the artist, these self-portraits are intensely personal explorations of his own identity, that aren't easy to explain.
"My naked pictures are never about shock value, never about provoking sexuality," Shen tells CNN. Rather, he says, viewers are free to interpret the images for themselves. "My purpose is served to make this piece of work, to express this vision. After that, I'm pretty open to perceptions from the outside."
This vision has earned Shen recognition around the world. Today, his works included in the permanent collections of museums like New York's MoMA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, and the Library of Congress, among many others.
Shen Wei's career as an photo artist began when he moved to the United States over a decade ago to study design. Instead, experiencing culture shock, he decided to pick up a camera and photograph the people around him. "I was exploring myself through other people," he says.
After having spent years in the United States, he returned to China and realized that both he and his home had changed. This became "Chinese Sentiment," a series "about an overseas Chinese person looking back to China and feeling nostalgia."
In contrast to popular Western depictions of China, Shen Wei chose to portray forgotten corners, looking for emotion in ordinary scenes. The result is a meditative journey through the country's landscapes that's less about social meaning and more about a personal experience.
Shen acknowledges the attention he gets for photographing nude male Asian men. "It was sort of a statement for me to break through this stereotyped image of Chinese men being not sensitive, not emotional, but that's just a small part of it. I always wanted my project to have a more universal statement, and not just focus on specific, obvious things," he tells CNN.
Traveling around the world, Shen looked for sights that were both "beautiful and sad at the same time." The work does not refer to any one location, he explains. "Some of the pictures might look very Chinese, but they may have been photographed in Turkey, or the UK."
The artist's newest series, "Between Blossoms," trades personal themes for an exploration of nature and spirituality. "I personally really believe that plants are spiritual, they have energy," he says. "This project is about finding a unified perspective of the world."
For Shen, the shift in subject matter reflects a feeling of having graduated from his earlier, more introspective works.
"I was very happy about that exploration, so I want to move on to see what else I can do and explore as an artist. This is the most conceptually abstract series I've done -- it's just about a mood and a sentiment."