Sheri Chiu

“While I utilized modeling as a tool to repair a broken self-image, I now engage in the craft to express and share stories. What changed? I suppose time passed, I fell in love, and I realized I didn’t need a stranger telling me I was beautiful anymore.”

Rebel muse, fashion magazine editor and creative director, Sheri Chiu opens her heart and talks to The Forest about her journey and how it all begun.

You have lived in three continents, each standing in sharp cultural contrast to the next. In which way have you experienced these changes, unfolding at different stages of your life?

I would say that being born in New York and raised New Jersey for the first 10 years of my life grounded me. Every kid deserves a backyard or somewhere to run free. I was fortunate enough to experience quiet, suburban life to focus on what every child should concentrate on: being a kid.


Nicolas Guerin /

My parents’ turbulent divorce uprooted me half way across the world to Hong Kong when I was 10-years-old. At the time I was much closer to my father because my mother was often working long hours in the city. All of a sudden, I had two “new” parents: my own mom and the second man she married. One summer she told my younger brother and me that we were going to Chicago for vacation. It turned out we were actually moving to Hong Kong and would stay there for eight years.


Jean Francois Gschwindt /

I now understand how important it was for my mom to salvage the scraps of her so-called “damaged” reputation, but at the time I simply hated her for destroying our family and not giving me the chance to say goodbye to my father, family members, or friends. I realized the fact that my mother kidnapped her children to live elsewhere and reconstruct a new family unit was not an easy situation for anyone, but what I really missed was transparent communication. I didn’t grow up in a family that talked about their emotions. I think that deeply affected me, especially during my formative years.


Reng Hang /

Moving was more than an adjustment to a new city; I felt like I didn’t even know the two adults who were taking care of me. I looked like a Hongkonger, but I didn’t speak Cantonese. I was my mother’s daughter, but I didn’t feel any connection to her. The search for identity was complicated, especially in a strict household that didn’t give me the chance to demonstrate trust or loyalty. A GPS tracking device was in my cell phone so my parents knew if I was lying about my whereabouts.


Formento + Formento

My mom would read my emails, and then forward them to her own account. My diary lock was broken, with pages torn out. I was often punished for trying to see my boyfriend, of whom they didn’t approve and repeatedly ask me to end my relationship with him. All in all, the extreme pressures of placing a leash on a teenager amplified the desire for freedom.


Paul Morel /

I was introduced to fashion through my high school’s annual charity fashion show, which I helped organize for four years. When I was 18 I moved to New York City to pursue studies in journalism and sociology. Lo and behold there were fashion shows at NYU as well. After spending years behind the scenes, my curiosity propelled me to the runway.


Jean Francois Gschwindt /

I auditioned to be a model, got casted, and started building a commercial portfolio. Art modeling came later, as a desire for approval from others. Being raised in a fashion conscious environment in Hong Kong, under a stern household, then gaining freedom in the seductive city that is New York, I never felt like I was conscious of my actions. I was always reacting to something that was done to me, always searching for a way to feed my low self-esteem and to feel a small sense of power.

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Sascha Rovinski /

I now live in Paris, probably one of the most artistic cities there is in the world, because my husband works here. At times I reject the city because the mentality and slow pace of life doesn’t correspond to my personal lifestyle, but after the rush in Hong Kong and New York, maybe the world is giving me a chance to reflect on my life for the time being.


Formento + Formento

I’m sure Hong Kong’s addiction to luxurious fashion and the fact that New York is the fashion capital pushed me to be in the industry. Ultimately I think a mixture of my education and interest in art at school, plus my parents’ upbringing have brought me to where I am today. I’m sure that if I stayed in New Jersey or under my father’s supervision I would have turned out differently, but those life decisions weren’t up to me at the time. No matter the growing pains, I have been very fortunate to grow up with the kinds of experiences I have had.


Reng Hang /

In a period of your life you have said that you would never work with the same photographer twice, because you were interested in capturing different interpretations of yourself. What is more, you also narrated how in the past you were attracted to the compliments coming from photographers. On one hand, willpower and determination are observed, whereas on the other, signs of insecurity are surfacing. In retrospect, would you consider it female nature, something innate and in which light do you see these statements now?

I actually do not recall saying that I never work with the same photographer twice, because I have done this, especially with my husband! It’s true that I rarely work with photographers multiple times, but when I do, it is because I know the experience will be mutually beneficial. I might say that I work with artists more than once, and photographers once.

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I think that artists are able to capture and develop a subject into something unique, whereas photographers who are comfortable in their style may replicate the same kind of images no matter how many times you work with him or her. I enjoy collaborating with a range of image-makers who can mold me into something different. It’s fascinating to see how a photographer can bring me into his realm and make me a player on his stage. Likewise, he or she may also be interested in who I am and take that essence as the driving force of an image. Either way, it’s fun to act a different role because I’m never the same behind or in front of the lens.


Nicolas Guerin /

In terms of the quest for self-validation, it was a struggle in the past, a deep one at that. I think models are the most insecure people of all. They may be beautiful, but they are the most tortured. While I utilized modeling as a tool to repair a broken self-image, I now engage in the craft to express and share stories. What changed? I suppose time passed, I fell in love, and I realized I didn’t need a stranger telling me I was beautiful anymore.

Looking at your photos, it is brighter than daylight that you are very comfortable with your body, your images covering the entire spectrum from innocence to lust. What are your thoughts on nudity and sexuality, the human body and the way it is are portrayed in media and art? Do you feel the media try to portray the body in a biased way  and what are the differences in perception of nudity in the different cultures you have lived in?

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Marc Hervouet /

I think nudity is our natural state of being, but it has become denaturalized in the way it is portrayed in the media. Oftentimes nudity is associated pornography or art, without much coverage in the middle ground. I think this tends to skew everyone’s perception of nudity.

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Kenny Sweeny /

Popular media tends to stick to stereotypes when it comes to “ideal” male figures as muscular to the point of being macho or “ideal” female figures having perfect breasts, a slim waist, and a full derriere. However, I think that we are slowly becoming more open to different types of beauty that don’t fall into our expectations of conventional attractiveness. Androgyny, transvestites, and “strange” beauties are successfully making their way into the scene.

The_Forest_Magazine_Sheri-Chiu_0052-2Nicolas Guerin /

I find both New York and Paris to be quite open when it comes to nudity. New York has been quite vocal with the Go Topless movement, fighting for gender equality. I appreciate how vocal the women in the United States are when it comes to judicial rights, but they might suffer more when it comes to the media’s portrayal of the body due to mass commercialization. The Parisians artists I know find nudity natural; it doesn’t raise any eyebrows. It’s almost like a way of life for them.

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Vivienne Mok /

Hong Kong might be the most prude when it comes to nudity, and understandably so. The photography market is smaller in comparison to other cities but still very prominent. I was in Hong Kong as a student, not as a model, so I cannot give too much insight into it except for the fact that people really care about their appearances. They care about exercise, having luxury goods, and being presentable.


Reng Hang /

I don’t have a strong sense of style when it comes to dressing myself. I just throw on what’s comfortable because I would say that my own skin is probably the comfiest thing I could wear.

You are married to one of the most prominent contemporary European photographers, Nicolas Guerin. How was it posing for him the first time and how did this relationship form?

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Nhu Xuan /

The first time I posed for Nicolas was January 2010 in New York City at the Thompson Hotel. It was terribly exciting for me as we were already both romantically interested in each other. I didn’t know if I would see him again after his visit to New York, but we kept in touch and eventually met again in Berlin for the film festival in February. On Valentine’s Day, he told me he had an important shoot to do and I followed along to assist. As Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio walked into the room, I struggled to hold the light because I was trying to pick up my jaw from the floor. Afterwards, Nicolas and I were photographed as a couple by Oliver Mark in a boutique hotel. You could say that after that day I was pretty interested in seeing how this relationship could develop. Boys use pickup lines, but Nicolas used DiCaprio.


In the years you have been modeling, you have had the chance to pose for amazing photographers, adherent of different aesthetic disciplines. How do you approach each photographic session, each with its own demands and is it Sheri we see acting, or different aspects explored with each photographer? If you had to keep only one image, which would it be and why?

The photographer normally brings me into his world where I can either explore as myself or as different characters, depending on the goal of the shoot. When I first started modeling, I tended to propose the same poses time and time again. It got to a point where photographers began telling me to “stop acting sexy.” It definitely took time to understand that my naked body was a tool to discover more than just fashion or sex; it could be utilized to express hidden emotions and capture the truth of just being myself.


Nicolas Guerin /

Most of my shoots with Nicolas are very therapeutic because they are quite personal. One day I was feeling quite angry, so we shot my body in movement as I released my frustration. This was the commencement of our “dance” series. Another shoot, titled “Behind,” was a study of the personalities, fantasies, and demons that exist behind the surface. I feel that I can express very deep emotions with Nicolas in imagery.


Xi Sinsong /

If I had to keep one image, it would probably be one from the series Nicolas and I did for Khube Magazine’s first issue. Not only does it probably represent the peak of my physical form, the shoot was rather simple with almost no real team. It was a fun and easy day, and as a result Nicolas and I captured some of our best images.

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Nicolas Guerin /

In a nutshell, is it you whom we see in all photos? As if you were acting, depending on the needs of the image, or do you become a canvas for each artist, letting them discover?

Sometimes people say they do not recognize me in images because I’m playing a character. I could be one of several Chinese girls in Ren Hang’s pictures or a creature of the night in Jean François Gschwindt’s images. I would say that the fashion images I’m in are the furthest from who I actually am. Taking an honest photo of someone is difficult, it takes time to know the person in order to capture who he/she really is.


Nicolas Guerin /

In addition to the above, how does the medium affect your mindset, if at all? Certainly large format wet plate photography demands a profoundly different workflow compared to digital snapshots. Most models who collaborate with photographers using digital only, are unaware of the technicalities involved and actually of how the most iconic fashion images they see, were made.

I have worked with one wet plate photographer (Ed Ross) and truly enjoyed my experience with him. I’ve also worked with light painters and had a blast. The thing is, I am not very good at staying still. Each pose requires thought beforehand; in a way I feel it is more academic. These slower forms of photography require incredible skill that I deeply admire, but I’m not sure if I’m the best subject for these mediums.


Nicolas Guerin /

Photographer Gary Breckheimer shoots nudes in public spaces of cities. I’ve worked with him four times now in New York and Paris. The preparation for his shoots is almost like wet plate in that we discuss what I’m going to do before I’m actually on set. On location in front of the Empire State Building or Eiffel Tower, I quickly take off my dress and do variations of the prepared pose for 30 seconds, before I hurry to dress and we dash in a cab to the next site.


Gary Breckheimer /

No matter what kind of photography, I’m very focused on obtaining the image we’re set out to achieve.

Many models have no idea regarding the technicalities of large format photography, how static and still they have to be. The pace is slow and they are used to digital where they change expression/pose after each click. You can observe that models who have posed for photographers that shoot analogue are way different in this regard. What do you prefer in general, maybe you like the fast paced digital, the slow analogue or anything in between?

I prefer the “in between” pace because for me, modeling is a dance and should be enjoyed. I like to explore ideas in a series of smooth poses rather than jumping from one pose to a completely different one. Modeling is about gradual development and transformation of the body, not sudden movements.


Formento + Formento

You studied Journalism in New York and have been occupied as a Fashion Editor. What attracted to this particular field?

I suppose that going to the orthodontist’s office each month to tighten my braces as a teenager gave me the chance to see new fashion magazines on a regular basis. I was always drawn to the colorful, glossy pages. I also discovered my passion for writing when I was 14-years-old; my high school English teacher commended me on my essays and stories which motivated me to write more. In addition, I also helped organized my high school’s charity fashion show every year which pretty much determined my involvement in fashion shows in college as well. Fashion is seductive to those who are unfamiliar to it. Once inside, I discovered that I respect the craftsmanship in all aspects of the design and the production process.


Gary Breckheimer /

Favourite motto?

I have three:

We have art in order not to die of the truth. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express. – Francis Bacon

Eat more, you’re too skinny. – My grandma

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Drastic hairstyle changes in women, usually signify personal transition. Was it the same with you?

It actually happened by accident. I was shooting with a husband and wife photographic team who put a wig on me. A portion of hair was uneven from the rest, so she cut it, thinking it was the wig. It was only after the end of the shoot when I took off the wig that I realized the photographer had actually cut off my real hair. In order to fix my hair, I decided to cut the rest of it into a bob.

The_Forest_Magazine_Sheri-Chiu_0060Ellen Rogers /

Have you considered trying the other side of the camera and start photographing?

From time to time I work with Nicolas behind the camera. Since he has years of professional experience, he knows exactly what looks good on camera, whereas I don’t know how to do anything technically when it comes to lighting or the camera settings. I really like to help direct the model and develop Nicolas’s and my ideas together. When Nicolas takes photos, I inject some suggestions as an external observer. When I take the camera, he does the same, and keeps me on track of achieving our goal. It’s very rewarding working together as a couple and a team, sharing ideas and building a story that speaks to both of us.



Favourite books:

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Tales of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski


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Reng Hang /

Favourite films:

Dancer in the Dark by Lars von Trier

Mulholland Drive by David Lynch

2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick

Remi Kozdra & Kasia Baczulis /

Favourite bands:


The Doors


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Stefan Rappo /

Artists you would like to meet and collaborate:

Sarah Moon

Nobuyoshi Araki

Helmut Newton

What kind of images do you like the most?

I like images that offer some form of narration. Nowadays, I tend to prefer darker imagery. Photos that offer a who, what, where, when, why, and how are always the most intriguing. I find fashion images to be increasingly boring.


Sascha Rovinski /

How often do you travel? The route Paris New York appears to be quite frequent.

I probably travel once a month. I do the New York – Paris trip twice a year because my family is based in New York. Other than that, I travel for work or to help Nicolas produce his images.


Christian Borth /

Are there any modelling jobs you regret doing, or were not happy with, even mildly? Any lessons learnt and advice to give? What would you suggest to anyone interested in following your path?

I wasn’t happy with one shoot where I entered the photographer’s apartment and found it to be a pigsty. When I undressed, he asked me to go on my knees and elbows so that he could take close-up photo of my nether regions. I don’t have a problem with this kind of photography, but I was not told in advance that it would be an erotic shoot. In addition, the photographer’s sloppy style and heavy breathing just made me wildly uncomfortable that I got the hell out of there. If any model is remotely unsure about a photographer, she should ask to meet him for a coffee in a public space so that they may discuss the photo shoot beforehand. That way, she can see if the photographer is serious. It also gives the photographer the chance to see the model in person.

In the end of the day what does fulfill you as a person? What makes Sheri happy?

Seeing the photo shoot process unfold is rewarding. It is the proof of my organization and creative ideas coming to life. I would say that discovering new places really fulfills me as well. I really enjoy traveling and have been blessed to see so much of it. At the end of the day, seeing my husband smile is just the cherry on top.


Nicolas Guerin /

What does the future hold?

We’re going to cover the Cannes Film Festival in May. We’re also traveling to Japan and New York. A lot of new projects will be revealed soon.


Paul Morel /

Interview by Demetrios Drystellas
All images courtesy of the respective photographers. In the case you discover an error in the photographic credits, please contact [email protected]