Wenxin Zhang first got into photography when she was just seven, at a “quite amazing” after-school club that taught her basic camera and darkroom skills. She tells BJP about her vast and varied photography career.
But it wasn’t until Wenxin Zhang was 14 that she really embraced the medium, inspired by European and Japanese art house films.
“I felt an intense desire to express myself,” she recalls, saying that she turned to photography as an alternative to making movies.
She has since studied for a BA in Management in Guangzhou, and an MA in Fine Arts at the Callifornia College of the Arts, but her cinematic approach to photography has stuck.
Creating enigmatic, suggestive images, her work “functions as a kind of literary device from which the viewer can reconstruct a fictional narrative”, she muses. Her project Five Nights, Aquarium consists of five short texts and 20 photographs.
The first and last texts draw on her own experiences but the three others on “the fantasies I developed from the claustrophobic feelings I had towards both my hometown Hefei and San Francisco, where I lived at the time,” she explains.
“The photographs are not illustrations to the texts, they themselves also function like short stories, but in a more ambiguous way.”
For her next project, Beast Guesthouse, she wrote a story before shooting, using it “as a loose script to look for locations and subject matters”.
Zhang has turned both projects into books, hoping that by doing so she can encourage viewers to look for longer than they would online.
She says her Beast Guesthouse series isn’t finished yet, but took up the opportunity to put out a version with Italian publisher Wittykiwi in November because “I don’t have many changes to introduce my work to the European audience”.
It’s a smart move, and one that will help her capitalise on the momentum she’s already building. She was nominated for Ones to Watch by Duan Yuting, the director of Lianzhou International Photography Festival, which exhibited her work in 2014.
The same year Zhang was also nominated for the Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award, won a Magnum Foundation grant and took up a residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock.
And last year Five Nights, Aquarium was included in an exhibition of Asian works at the Fotobook Festival Kassel.
Currently, she’s continuing work on Beast Guesthouse and also on a new project, Polymorphic Expedition, which she describes as examining “the notion of odyssey… I capture images from road trips in the mountains, forest and grand cities, looking for moments that lie between reality and fabrication, and use them as raw material or textures to create a [sense of] immense experience.”
She adds: “I’m thinking about using video games as well as 3D modelling elements in the project.”
See more of Wenxin Zhang’s photography here.