Photographer in China turns farmer grandfather, 85, into 'hip' fashion icon

Mr Ding Bingcai in his farmer's garb (left) and his transformation into a sartorial muse (right).
Mr Ding Bingcai in his farmer's garb (left) and his transformation into a sartorial muse (right). PHOTOS: VIA CHINA DAILY

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A 30-year-old professional photographer with an interest in fashion recently found an unlikely yet dapper muse: his 85-year-old grandfather.

Mr Ding Guoliang typically uses models in their 20s for his chic fashion photos. But it was images posted online of his gracefully aging grandfather in stylish suits and accessories that brought Ding the most attention.

Three-piece suits, fedoras, half-rimmed glasses worn elegantly by Mr Ding Bingcai reminded viewers of snapshots of stylish men of a similar age on streets abroad.

"He looks amazing in the pictures. Not everybody looks good in suits. But he's got class," Mr Ding, who told CNN in an interview he goes by the name Jesse, said.

According to CNN, the elder Mr Ding has been compared to popular New York street-style star Nick Wooster, who is in his 50s.

"My grandfather never showed timidity during the photo shoot. At his age, he has become quite calm about many things. He just enjoyed my company."

Unlike the fashion icons found on the pages of magazines and newspapers, Jesse's grandfather is a farmer who spent most of his life in a village in Fujian province. He moved out to live with his children in Xiamen a few years ago.

But he easily exchanged his plain rural garb for higher fashion and projected the air of a graceful and fashionable gentleman.

"He had never worn suits before," said Jesse, who took the pictures in September during a visit by his grandfather to the southeastern city of Xiamen. "It was normal, even if there were holes in the clothes."

For the fashion shoot, his grandfather received a total makeover. A friend of Ding's lent him the clothes and other props for the project, which used scenes of cosy cafes and streets wet with rain as a backdrop.

The duo spent three days wandering around the coastal city. In some shots, they wore the exact same outfits and struck identical poses, reported CNN.

Jesse said he likes to see the "very calm and very serious old man" smile. "He doesn't like to smile too much. I feel so happy when he smiles at me through the lens. It feels so warm."

The photographs provide a fond memory of the time the two spent together, and Jesse said he hopes the pictures will encourage other family members, including his cousins, to spend more time with his grandfather.

The grandfather has five children living in different cities, and they have taken turns caring for him since Jesse's grandmother died in 2014.

CNN reported that Jesse grew up with the elder Mr Ding in the countryside till he moved away at the age of 10.

Recalling how his grandfather would keep "delicious food" for him such as eggs, apples and candy, Jesse said this was his tribute as a way to repay the favour.

"Taking care of him is not just about offering food and clothing. It means ... making him happy, making him feel that he exists and gratifying him mentally," Jesse said. "I kept talking to him while taking these pictures, and I made him smile."

Jesse, who was in Beijing on Saturday to appear as a guest on China Central Television's Voice, said he would like to stay in the city for a few days and see the sights.

"I promised my grandfather I would take him to Beijing and visit Tiananmen," Guoliang said. "Maybe we will go there if it gets a little warmer."

The show will be aired on Feb 13.