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Use You Illusion III: About Slash, Stardust and Zhu Lanqing. 朱岚清: 镜头里的陌生人.

Obscure, intimate, weird… These are key words in the "to share or not to share -- on social media" debate. Combined with the actual visualization of photographer Zhu Lanqing's thoughts on our media-minded mass-likings, the lines between (online) reality and illusion have blurred.

Voltaire once stated, “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” Negative Nancy often states, “Friendship is an illusion.” The term “illusion” appears to be a hotly debated one throughout time. Philosophers and pessimists aside, along came Zhu Lanqing, a young Dragon photographer whose work explores the relationship people establish with their online entourage.  One key question meanders the mind… Is this real or is it all an illusion? 

“Dictionary definitions of illusion usually state that an illusion is a sensory perception that causes a false or distorted impression or a misrepresentation of a ‘real’ sensory stimulus.” Google, my BFF.

The Vogue-gone-rogue vagabond 

With zero per cent inspiration and 100 per cent perspiration, people struck by writer’s block tend to wander the wastelands covered in cabin-feverish cravings for success, all the while  waiting for that one drop of enlightenment to fall down from the very much overcast skies. A delusional train-of-thought in itself, until… Slash and Bowie appear before the eyes like the gods of sensationally Vogue-gone-rogue vagabonds they are, showering the wanderer with resources to drain from. Yes, I tend to get slightly carried away and have  for the past month been putting “November Rain” Slash on a (p)leather-clad pedestal as high as his (once shoplifted) vintage token top hat.

Now, on an interesting side note  for those interested, these two masters of modishly rocking mayhem share some 1980s history: Bowie dated Slash’s mother, aka an episode where big hair, bleached hair and big shoulders crossed paths. However ludicrous they at times may be deemed, for writers like “the wanderer”, artists like “the gods” and photographers like Zhu, one truth often is entirely real…  Inspiration is all about the fantastical beasts of this universe (copyright shout-out to J.K. Rowling, as you do).

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” The ‘Strangers in a picture’ body of work is a dramatic and extreme expression of this phenomenon, i.e. people creating wide online networks of ‘friends’, compressing the time and distance amongst us all.” Zhu Lanqing.

A real illusion or a delusional reality?

That is the question today’s photographer asked herself in her thirsty quest for more knowledge about and understanding of social relationships anno 2017. Zhu’s is a young voice that investigates themes that are of great interest to Beijing correspondente-du-jour, Italiana Chiara Sassu of lifestyle blog Chiara’s Coffeetable: Friendship, unfamiliarity and exploration. Among  the many different stories of actors, fashion designers, musicians and so on, Zhu’s grabbed Sassu by the lapels. The 21-year-old is a photographer who investigates the relationship people establish with their social media “friends”, capturing that one moment where they cease to be strangers as they become part of a virtual network.”Strangers in a picture” they may very well be, but illusions they most definitely are not. Take it away, Sassu!

岚青虽然仍然十分年轻,但是她倾心研究的主题却是让我十分向往的:友谊、陌生感、旅途、探索。杂志里采访了众多中国演员、时尚设计师、音乐家等,而岚青的故事一下子就抓住了我。透过工作,她深度地了解人们与社交媒体上“朋友”建立的关系;而这种独特的建立联系的方式,也抹掉了人们之间本来存在的隔阂与距离。这点已经足以打动我。镜头里的陌生人.

“This is a very unusual interview. I’ve never met Zhu before, yet I feel a connection. She was first brought to my attention some two years ago, when I bought my copy of Vogue Italia and realised it was all about China. Pure joy.” Chiara Sassu.

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Sassu: At what point did you know that photography had become more than just a hobby to you?

Zhu: “I fell in love with taking pictures when I was in middle school and I realized this would be my future right away. I couldn’t do anything else or be anything else if not a photographer. I chose photography as my university major. Nevertheless, even when I was somehow getting closer to living my childhood dream, at the same time I was still miles away form actually achieving it. I was struggling to strike a balance between the style of photography I had in mind and the one that would help pay my bills. I was confused and no longer had any idea about what kind of photographer I really wanted to be! It took me some time to find out the true meaning of photography — it has to be about passion, not work. On the other hand, ‘work’ and ‘interest’ mean different things to different people, so I guess there is no univocal answer here…”

是在什么时机你感觉到摄影不再仅仅是一个爱好了?从我中学喜欢上拍照片时,我就告诉自己我未来要把摄影当职业,我觉得除了摄影我没办法做其他工作。大学我如愿以偿学习摄影,那时虽然看起来距离青少年时的梦想很近,但实际却更远,因为我在“我想要做的摄影”与“可以赚钱谋生的摄影”之间徘徊,不知道我毕业后应该成为一名怎样的摄影师。慢慢地我才发现,其实我不一定要成为一名擅长各种领域的职业摄影师,我想要做的只是可以独立地运用摄影去创作,去表达。想通了这一点,我就知道了摄影之于我生活的意义。还有就是,我觉得”工作“与”兴趣“这个划分也不是绝对的,对于不同的人,它们可能完全有截然相反的意义。

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“It took me some time to find out the true meaning of photography — it has to be about passion, not work.” Zhu Lanqing.

Sassu: Has your photography style changed over the years?

Zhu: “Yes. Every time I have a new picture coming out, people can spot the differences. I think this is because I was working whilst studying, and kept exploring different fields of my interest at the same time. One’s style does not change overnight, this evolution is related to personal knowledge and experience. Yet there is a whole world out there, one waiting for you to dig into, and I’m ready to jump out and take it all in! I’m sure this too will at some point impact my work.”

这么久以来,你的摄影风格变化了吗?这些年,可以看出每个新的作品都会带来一些风格的转变。我想应该是这几年仍处在一个边学习边创作的阶段,也在探索自己感兴趣的不同面向和方式。现在的我则能明确自己的创作了,也开始让自己在一个关注的点上不断深入。摄影方式或风格的变化其实都不是突然发生的,它与你不断积累的经验与知识是有很大关系的。我想以前我的创作会更依靠直觉与经验,现在我开始意识到在我们自身的经验之外有一个更大的世界,我们不应该被经验局限。所以我想很多想法上的改变,都会带来我摄影方式上的改变。

Sassu: Why do you think that it is important for people to “meet strangers”? 

Zhu: “Well, actually I don’t think ‘meeting strangers’ in itself is very important. It is rather an unavoidable phenomenon in today’s society. This body of work is a dramatic and extreme expression of this phenomenon, compressing the units of time and distance among people. I was curious to learn more about how people would act when faced with perfect strangers is unusual situations. It’s very obscure and weird, yet intimate, all at the same time.”

为什么你觉得大家去认识陌生人这件事儿很重要?其实我并非觉得“meeting strangers”是很重要的,我觉得它其实是现代社会中我们无法避免的一件事情,不管你喜不喜欢。这组作品,其实好像是把一个其实是很日常的行为戏剧化或极端化了,它压缩了我们与陌生人之间的距离,压缩了正常的时间。所以那时我好奇的是,在一个非正常的情况下,我们面对陌生人时会呈现出什么样的状态,那种状态可能就是非常暧昧的,一种又亲密又陌生的怪异感觉。

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Sassu: How did you go from taking pictures to creating handmade books? 

Zhu: “I’ve always loved reading… Books, magazines, the whole shebang. Even though I’m very busy right now, I still try to make time for it. To be honest, I had no idea of how to set up such an exhibition when I started on creating the first book. The only way I could think of, in terms of how to present my work, was to bundle each and every one picture in a book. It’s just a very convenient way to fully express yourself. Since it’s completely hand-made, I don’t even have to worry about printing and having to spend more time and energy on the creative process. A book is fun and personal and it takes you back to your childhood.”

那又是什么样的契机,你开始做手工书?我小时候很喜欢看书,看杂志,即使后来看书不如之前多,我仍然喜欢翻阅书的感觉。而且在做第一本手工书的时候,我还不懂怎么去做展览,我所能想到的能完整呈现自己作品的方式就是——做一本书。我觉得做一本书,对于摄影师来说都是最力所能及的事情,它不需要花费你太多成本而且它能很完整地传达你的想法。既然自己动手做书,那我就不用考虑关于机器印刷的麻烦问题,我可以更自由地在上面创作,直到它变成一本很难批量生产的手工书。我觉得做手工书真的是一件很好玩的事情,你可以把它变成一件很私人的事情,可以把书想象成另外一种东西,可以重拾你童年对手工的热爱。

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Sassu: Is there another photographer that inspires you or influences your work?

Zhu: “There are quite a few: Mary Ellen Mark, Bernard Faucon, Jeff Wall, Tomoko Yoneda, Qing Ye and He Zi among the others.”

哪些摄影师曾给你带来灵感或者是影响到你的创作?很多摄影师都会从不同的方面影响到我,比如Mary Ellen Mark , Bernard Faucon , Jeff Wall , 米田知子, 清野贺子等等。

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Sassu: What do you think is next in line for you — professionally speaking?

Zhu: ” I am now learning how to follow an actual working schedule — this has proven tricky for me in the past. I’m not particularly good with deadlines… My priority has always been to be creative and I have so many projects lined up… I hope to be able to turn one of these into a book. One day!”

你个人还有作为职业摄影师的下一步计划是什么?目前我正在学习如何可以有序规律地一个人工作:)这对于我一个自制力稍差的人还挺难的。目前这个阶段对于我来说最重要的还是创作,有很多想要拍的项目还在酝酿中,希望可以一个个推进,然后每个项目都可以做一本很棒的书!

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Obscure, intimate, quirky, weird… These are key words that attract the eye and spark the interest. Combined with the actual visualization of Zhu’s thoughts on our social media-minded mass-likings, the lines between reality and illusion (aka the online reality) have blurred. As “The Waste Land” poet T.S. Eliot once declared, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”, so is it really that weird that many prefer to cling to the illusion? In all of its quirkiest, obscurest and funniest ways, friendship in general is a good thing. A happy thing. Besides, we could all use a little stardust to make us shine now and again.

Images: Copyright@Zhu Lanqing.

For more life, love and games in Beijing, visit Chiara’s Coffeetable