In 2018 Russian photographer Valya Lee posed for two months as a party girl in a Chinese karaoke club. She immortalised her immersion in Katyusha. In the Mood for Love, a chilling photographic report

In China, no one really knows what is going on behind the closed doors of karaoke clubs. Valya Lee, an independent Russian photographer, decided to go and investigate them. “I need to immerse myself in the world I am studying, to explore the subject from within,” explains the young woman, who is a photo student in St. Petersburg. “With Katyusha. In the Mood for Love, I tell the story of thousands of women who work in karaoke clubs – they are called party girls, i.e. “hostesses” or “girls who play with alcohol”. While most of the girls are Chinese, these hostesses also come from Russia or Ukraine. For two months, Valya Lee experienced the girls’ daily life and documented this underground economy with her smartphone. “It was not an easy experience. It’s the sort of place where women are considered a commodity. Their beauty is all they can offer. The girls enter the room and line up in a single row. Then, men get to pick”, says Valya Lee. The managers’ motto is “You’re here to sing, drink and have fun!”

To create an atmosphere of love

“In these clubs, people play lovers. Girls claim to enjoy interacting with strangers, they smile, allow men to touch their bodies and even tolerate intimate relationships. Their roles? To create an atmosphere of love,” the photographer explains. A staging necessary for the survival of many of them. Through her images, Valya Lee offers a striking testimony of the state of the modern world and Chinese society, marked by economic instability. No one forces these women to work, yet “some of them love their work because it enables them to earn money quickly and live a good life”. We already know that bodies were consumer commodities, yet Valya Lee’s images highlight a chilling universe.

© Valya Lee