Man Zhu Interview

Man Zhu

Man Zhu on discovering the realm of photography, expressing emotions through visual storytelling, & exploring complex dynamics through the language of photography.

How did you get into making art?

From a young age, I cultivated a deep passion for art, gravitating towards sketching and painting, despite the absence of formal training or adherence to specific techniques. As I matured, I serendipitously discovered the realm of photography, finding it to be a captivating avenue for documenting life and weaving intricate narratives. In contrast to my earlier unstructured approach to art, photography presented a distinctive method for capturing moments with precision and expressing emotions through visual storytelling.

However, through thorough exploration, I’ve come to realize that the visual arts share common threads, prompting me to gradually reconnect with my original intention. Despite the divergence in mediums, the essence of artistic expression remains intertwined, and I am now in the process of reclaiming and harmonizing these diverse elements in my creative journey.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently focused on advancing my work with the series “UnFrame: Relationship,” which has been selected as a finalist of the Hopper Prize. This collection initially began as an experimental photography project using expired film rolls from specific years that I had gathered. Over time, it has evolved into a form of small-scale installation art, while still maintaining photography as its primary medium.

The series explores the dynamic concept of relationships through the lens of experimental photography, and I am dedicated to pushing its boundaries and exploring new dimensions within the realm of visual storytelling. Additionally, I am continually adding to my body of work, with other series seeing ongoing development and expansion whenever inspiration strikes. This creative journey involves a constant exploration of ideas and a commitment to expressing narratives through the captivating medium of photography.

I serendipitously discovered the realm of photography, finding it to be a captivating avenue for documenting life and weaving intricate narratives.

Man Zhu

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

I drew inspiration to embark on this body of work from my fascination with antique shops. Around 2019, I stumbled upon a vintage 127 film camera – a format no longer in production. This particular camera gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, coinciding with the birth years of my parents. Intrigued by this connection, I conceived the idea of purchasing expired film rolls from the years of my parents’ births and using the vintage camera to capture images. Through the language of photography, I aimed to explore and express the complex dynamics of my relationship with my parents.

As the project unfolded, it organically expanded beyond my immediate family to encompass a broader exploration of relationships in my life. For instance, delving into my romantic relationship, I started collecting expired film rolls from various years. The unique ability of photography to convey the passage of time in its own language captivated me, and I found the process of using expired film and vintage cameras to express these temporal nuances truly enchanting. Consequently, I’ve remained committed to this ongoing project, employing the distinctive language of photography to convey the ever-evolving sense of time and relationships.

The content captured with the vintage camera possesses a distinctive visual quality due to the age of the film rolls. These unique visual effects have prompted me to use the photographs as collage materials. Incorporating them into collages adds another layer of storytelling to my work, allowing me to weave together different moments and relationships in a visually compelling manner. This approach enhances the narrative depth and enriches the overall aesthetic of the project, creating a visually arresting exploration of time, relationships, and the inherent beauty of impermanence.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

This question is a bit challenging to answer because my approach to artistic practice may involve both methods. Currently, I tend to focus more on projects with clear expressive intentions, often having specific themes and goals. However, I also value maintaining a degree of flexibility. If inspiration strikes suddenly, I don’t want to be confined by a particular mode of expression; I want the freedom to explore and experiment with new creative directions. Therefore, in my artistic practice, I believe both approaches are possible, depending on the inspiration and creative state at any given time.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

Actually, I don’t currently have a separate studio; I consider my apartment to be my workspace. I’ve transformed part of my living space into a makeshift studio, and some of the darkroom processes take place in the bathroom, which I’ve converted into a dimly lit space.

A typical day for me involves immersing myself in this creative corner of my home. I begin by organizing and preparing materials, setting the ambiance for a productive day of artistic exploration. I dedicate specific time slots for photography editing, experimenting with different techniques, and developing film in my DIY darkroom setup.

Recently, I’ve been on a quest to rediscover my artistic roots. I’ve started to reintroduce painting into my repertoire, seeking to reconnect with the fundamental joy of picking up a brush and expressing myself on canvas. This newfound exploration has added an exciting dimension to my typical day, as I navigate between the worlds of photography and painting within the confines of my home “studio.”

Who are your favorite artists?

My favorite artists are Pixy Liao and Alison Rossiter. I resonate with Pixy Liao’s creative content, particularly in her exploration of intimate relationships. Her project “Experimental Relationship” aims to express the emotions between herself and her partner, who is five years younger. Interestingly, I share a similar age difference with my boyfriend, making Pixy’s visual expressions particularly relatable and inspiring for me.

Alison Rossiter, on the other hand, captivates me with her use of photography materials to create abstract visual effects. Many might not immediately associate her works with traditional photography upon first glance. However, she steadfastly asserts that these effects, created through photosensitive materials, embody the essence of photography. Her dedication to exploring the unique language of photographic materials continually inspires me.
Both Pixy Liao and Alison Rossiter have become significant influences on my artistic journey, providing me with a constant source of inspiration through their distinctive approaches to visual storytelling and the exploration of photography’s intrinsic nature.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

I love discovering new artists, and my go-to platform is social media. The vast realm of big data allows me to explore and find a multitude of artists whose creations align with my aesthetic preferences. Social media provides an efficient and accessible way to stay updated on emerging talents, and I often come across captivating artworks that spark my interest.

Living in New York City has also been a tremendous advantage for exploring art. I keep a close eye on information from various galleries and museums, attending exhibitions to experience art in person. The city’s vibrant art scene constantly introduces me to diverse and innovative works.

In addition to online exploration and city resources, I actively participate in art exhibitions, salons, and events. These gatherings not only offer me the chance to view artwork firsthand but also provide opportunities for engaging discussions and networking with fellow art enthusiasts. Despite a potential inclination towards introversion with age, my passion for art overcomes any hesitation, encouraging me to actively seek out new artists and stay connected to the ever-evolving world of contemporary art.

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