In this age of awesome Photoshop manipulations, it can be easy to look at unrealistic photo images and chalk them up to simple photo editing. The majority of photographers have no qualms using photo editing software to enhance their photographs, but a few others do it the old way and resort to more back-breaking methods to achieve their vision. Artist and photographer Li Wei has become famous for his seemingly unphotoshopped Photoshops showing men flying and cars floating through the air.
As a boy growing up in rural China, Li Wei always wanted to become an artist. He studied at a private arts school, but had to work at odd jobs to support himself later on. While he was then able to work securely as an artist using paint, Li realized that performance art was the only way that he could truly express himself. Thus began his foray into his "action shots".
When Li began his performance art series around 2000, they were simply that: performance art. The photographs only came in when Li wanted pictures to document his performances. When Li began his "Falls Into..." series, (depicting the artist literally falling into walls, cars, roads, etc.), photography became an integral part of his works.
After his "Falls Into.." series, Li went the other direction and made images of himself flying, floating or jumping on top of tall buildings, trees, or other people. These images slowly made him famous over the Internet, popularizing him as that crazy Asian man jumping out of skyscraper windows or being kicked off hi-rise rooftops.
In order to pull off these amazing shots, Li uses anything from mirrors to heavy-duty rope to rented-out cranes. These elements are then edited out to give a sense of impossibility to his pictures. While the editing process might fall under the Photoshop category, it's important to note that 99% of his images are done on the scene and the final 1% is just retouching. This video shows just how dangerous his guerrilla-style photo shoots can be.
In order to create just one of these images, Li spends months and sometimes years preparing for the shoot. He first creates a sketch of his idea before the scene actually takes place. Those months of visioning and hammering out the details pay off with the final image. Whether it's Photoshop or untouched, Li doesn't care much about the process compared to the reactions that he gets from viewers; most often his audience find themselves in awe or disbelief, other times they laugh out loud from the comical undertones of the scene.
In all of these images, Li hopes to emulate the legend of Sun Wukong (also known as the Monkey King). In the ancient Chinese fable, Sun Wukong is able to transform himself in 72 ways, each one more powerful than his human form. In the same way, Li hopes to show a sense of freedom and defiance over the mundane activities of normal life.
More flying men and levitating stuff over at Li Wei's website here. His more recent photo works can be found here. Although not that common, there are a few publications with his unphotoshopped photoshops. They include: Li Wei, another one also entitled Li Wei and Out Of The Red.