Jiayi Liang has never liked the idea of being forced into one lane. Her love for the power of images has resulted in successful careers as both a photographer and a videographer. A woman of high demand, she uses her roots in fine arts to breathe creativity and artistry into all circumstances and situations. From the chaotic runways of major fashion events to the illumination of cultural icons who speak with historic repercussions, Jiayi can be found hovering in the midst to chronicle these moments with the most fascinating of perspectives. Capturing images, still or moving, may be a description of what she achieves but it’s more appropriate to say that her work allows others to inhabit a moment in time and a feeling which simultaneously possesses exposure and isolation.
New York Fashion Week is one of the world’s four largest industry events. When it occurs, nearly a quarter of a million attendees descend upon venues, generating almost one billion dollars for NYC’s annual economy. You don’t have to attend to perceive the energy and enthusiasm of the moment. VRAI Magazine enlisted Jiayi to cover NYFW for them in 2019-2020. With only fifteen-thirty photographers allowed per show, gaining the perfect position and angle is a result of insight and fast feet. Liang covered important shows including Studio 189 (Co-founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah) whose African pieces are both stunning and provide economic empowerment for those working at the company, designer Adam Zohar’s bridal and evening gowns, and The Blue Jacket Fashion Show which promotes men’s health with an emphasis on prostate cancer. Most of us have seen footage of the shows with a cluster of photographers engulfed in the flare of so many flashes. Ms. Liang concedes, “There’s absolutely a frenetic energy to these shows. The models move quickly and you have to anticipate the right moment and run from show to show. In contrast, the backstage atmosphere is much more relaxed. I found myself having conversations with Rosario Dawson, Bill Nye the Science Guy, musician David Byrne, among others. We’d take photos and then have a very pleasant dialogue, much more relaxed and a truly pleasant experience.”
There could be no starker contrast to Jiayi’s NYFW experience than that of her collaboration with Shiyu Lin on The Oral History of Gao Yaojie and The Brilliant Star – A Documentary of Gao Yaojie. Shiyu asked Ms. Liang to take on the role of videographer and photographer for this project which produced a book and a documentary. Dr. Gao gained international notoriety as the first civilian advocate to fight AIDS in China. A recipient of Vital Voices Global Partnership’s “Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World” and the the Heinz R.Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences, Dr. Gao has been highly praised by international leaders like Hillary Clinton and others for her life’s work. Currently living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in poor health, Shiyu and Jiayi understood the importance of documenting Dr. Gao’s story from the source. Filmed over a two-year period, the documentary presents a living portrait of a woman in exile who perseveres through physical and emotional obstacles to help others. As powerful as this is, the photo which adorns the front cover of the book in nearly overwhelming. In this one single image, the strength of Dr. Gao as well as the toll life has taken on her are visible. Jiayi describes, “I was very happy that this photograph displayed so much about Dr. Gao. So often, capturing the perfect image is about being aware of your surroundings and recognizing when a number of factors align. There was nothing momentous occurring in the instance when I took the photo which now appears as the cover of the book, it was somewhat mundane. Dr. Gao had just finished sending her work emails and started having her lunch. She was a little tired, thinking about the new book she was writing. The sunlight was very good that day, gently spilling into the room from the window, shining on Dr. Gao, making her look gentle and soft but solemnly and sadly at the same time.”
Jiayi Liang has chosen a profession which places her in the position of focusing attention on others. At a time when it seems like the majority of Earth’s population wants to be noticed, Jiayi prefers the opposite…which begs the question “What keeps your interest and enthusiasm for your career?” Liang gleefully responds, “There’s so much! What started out as my teenage hobby has developed into something that has taken me all over the world. My work demands that I constantly expand my knowledge of technology, which I also love. However, the greatest part is that I constantly meet new people who do something other than what I do and learn about their story. My world keeps getting bigger.”
Writer: Coleman Haan