Photographer Yu Tsai Is Championing Inclusion and Diversity in the Industry

by Tangie Silva

Rising star photographer Yu Tsai shot the cover of Stella Maxwell for the latest issue of The Daily Summer and we’ve fallen in love with his work. He tells The Daily about shooting Maxwell for Vogue Taiwan, how he wants the industry to come together, and all about his show, Let’s Talk Live

How did you meet Stella Maxwell?
Stella and I met for the first time four years ago backstage at the Moschino show while I was conducting interviews for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore on the models walking the show.

What was the inspiration for the look?
It was important to me that there was no artificial light. No strobe. I wanted to capture Stella’s beauty the way natural light illuminates her, the softness of the light creating a super romantic and poetic mood to the story.

Stella Maxwell (Yu Tsai)

You just landed the Sports Illustrated cover shoot. What was that like?
This year marks the eleventh year of my relationship with SI. My first shoot was in Turkey with Anne V. Each time, I show up for SI, I always feel blessed and privileged. Unlike other publications, I have grown and evolved with this magazine. It is truly the first publication that celebrated inclusion in body positivity from Kate Upton to Ashley Graham. SI continues to push equality in beauty, by celebrating a 56-year-old model [Kathy Jacobs] and a transgender model [Valentina Sampaio]. I can’t say the same about many magazines out there, so I’m proud to be part of this brand. I have celebrated and pushed diversity with all my work from the past 15 years. I cast the first Asian model in a GUESS campaign, and I fight to have black models featured on covers of magazines that don’t traditionally feature them. But diversity isn’t just about the person in front of the lens; the team behind the lens is so important. I champion to include diversity on my team.

Are you happy with the diversity that was featured?
I have celebrated and pushed diversity with all my work from the last 15 years. I cast the first Asian model in a GUESS campaign and fight to have black models featured on covers of magazines that don’t traditionally feature them. But diversity is not just about the person in front of the lens, the team behind the lens is so important. I champion to include diversity on my team.

How do you think we can keep this spirit of inclusion going?
Through the efforts of the #BLM movement, we are finally seeing true changes happening in our industry in terms of diversity. Publications are making these changes because of the fear of backlash. To me, I don’t care if this is the reason for change, as long as we are moving in the right direction. As an Asian American, I have fought for Asians to be recognized in the U.S. fashion industry for years. I think changes have to begin in your own community. Being honest, I am often ashamed of Asians in the fashion industry. Our community in the U.S. doesn’t often support one another, but we must take example from designers like Jason Wu and editors like Lindsay Peoples Wagner [Teen Vogue] who talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to inclusion in fashion.

How do you think we can keep this spirit of inclusion in the industry?
Through the efforts of the #BLM movement, we are finally seeing true changes happening in our industry in terms of diversity. Publications are making these changes because of the fear of backlash. To me, I don’t care if this is the reason for change, as long as we are moving toward the right direction. As an Asian American, I have fought for Asians to be recognized in US fashion industry for years. I think changes have to begin in your own community. Being completely honest, I am often ashamed of Asians in the fashion industry. Our community in the U.S. don’t often don’t support each other, but we must take example from designers like Jason Wu and editors in chief like Lindsay Peoples Wagner that talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to inclusion in fashion.

Tell us about your Let’s Talk Live program.
Let’s Talk Live started as a show that celebrated talent in the fashion and beauty industry. My guests came on the show to share their creative journey and behind the scenes stories. But I quickly realized that I had a platform that could serve a greater purpose. Let’s Talk began an initiative for every guest that accepted my invitation to appear on Let’s Talk, we donated 500 surgical masks in their name to first responders. We asked the guests to match if they felt motivated. With amazing hero donors like Milla Jovovich donating 30,000 masks and Kate Upton donating 12,000 masks. To date, we have raised and delivered over 100,000 masks to first responders. Over the last three months, with over 80 interviews, Let’s Talk guests have ranged from fashion designer Jason Wu to journalist Lisa Ling, to the president of Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David, to Taste the Nation and Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi to supermodel Toni Garrn. All our conversations share in the celebration of diversity, inclusion, and shedding a spot light on communities that have marginalized. I’ve spoken with women chefs in a male dominated field, the LGBTQ community striving for equal rights, and people in the food industry giving back during these troubling times. I’ve also recognized and amplified the importance of my own Asian heritage, while never settling or blending in.

What’s next for you?
Next for me is to stay present at all times while recognizing injustice in our community and keeping the dialogue open so we can all make changes.

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