With her boyish yet quirky bowl cut hair ( courtesy of Yii ), bleached eyebrows and crimson red lips, Zhong Lin stares off into space with a lit cigarette in her hand, her mind clearly running through the idea and image that I had just thrown at her. Dressed in her everyday two-piece uniform consisting of a faded cloudy light blue shirt and equally faded denim knee length shorts, Zhong Lin stands out from the crowd with her quiet confidence and aloof mannerism. As her light honey – coloured eyes meet mine, a wide grin and twinkle in her eye followed. “Yes! We could totally do that! It’s an amazing space”. Phew! Brilliant! At least I can cross one thing off my list now for the remainder of 2016.
Planning a shoot is one thing, coming to a creative agreement is another! And I am very glad to be working with her. Zhong Lin is an interesting character, never one to mince her words or speak unless necessary, revealing her thoughts only to those closest to her. Her photographs are an immediate reflection and portrayal of her character: honest and sincere. There is no trace of beating around the bush, just direct wholesome goodness.
As I get started on my assignment (after being heckled by my colleague and chief content curator for almost a month), Zhong Lin promptly finishes her cigarette and reaches out to her ice latte placed neatly between us. As cold and cut – dry as the atmosphere around us might sound, there is a definite air of warmth and deep, yet soft pulse of passion as Zhong Lin speaks about the world she has fully immersed herself in: photography.
” IT MEANS EVERYTHING TO ME. THERE IS NOTHING BETTER THAN GETTING PAID DOING WHAT I LOVE DOING BEST.”
What inspired you to be a photographer?
Nothing in particular – it started off with a massive obsession on analogue black & white negatives. I was clueless when I started but I knew instantly then, that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of producing black and white photographs. That and also, it was the only thing I was told that I am good at haha!
What does it mean to be a photographer to you?
It means everything to me. There is nothing better than getting paid doing what I love doing best.
Who is your favourite photographer and why?
I don’t have one particular favourite photographer. I admire every photographer for their individuality and identity. For example, the earlier works of Annie Leibovitz when she shot for Rolling Stones Magazine – the intimacy between her and her subject was beautiful, and of course the cover of John Lennon and Yoko is one of my favourite pieces of work. I also admire Nan Goldin. Her works are almost akin to a documentary on life which, I find very interesting. I’m often inspired by what she sees through her eyes. Her work, “Ryan in the tub” is definitely a favourite on my list.
Your favourite photoshoot…
Wow! OK, that was actually 4 years ago, it was my first collaboration with Evon Tan. Back then, we did not have a team – it just the two of us. She drew freckles on her face, we drove into the wild, and shot randomly along the way. It was an amazing experience and I love the way the photographs turned out. The portrait of her went viral on the internet after it was published.
What is it like moving between editorials and campaigns and which is your favourite of the two?
I love working on both actually. Editorials are super versatile as you get to play with different ideas and styles. Simply put, you get to have a little more personality in it and that is essential I think as a photographer. I find campaigns interesting as it stretches my creativity a little more. It’s a different ballgame altogether as we would still have to maintain the client’s aesthetic and direction. The fun bit is bridging that gap between meeting the client’s expectations and surprising them every season with my own element.
How do you prepare for a shoot -ie, what are the thought process behind a shoot for you? For eg: your planning process, where you pick inspirations from etc…
Once I receive a concept for my assignments, I begin my research almost immediately and start assembling a suitable team. I cannot stress the importance of having the right team for a shoot. When it comes to concept and inspiration, fashion photography is exceptional for this, just to give my creativity a little boost – almost like a caffeine fix really. Otherwise, I take inspiration as it comes from almost anything. I could get it from a person’s personal story about their everyday life, a movie, or even from a very simple conversation with a friend. I love sharing ideas in between conversations. At the end of the day, everyone has to have the same vision, and be on the same path to achieve the best results.
So tell us about the glitter and gold seen in CUEVOLUTION’s SS16 campaign shots?
The inspiration was actually pretty simple and is based on CUEVOLUTION’S philosophy and brand aesthetic. Ai Lim approached me with her vision of what she wanted for the shoot and I threw in glitter, soap and gold paint into the mix, as random as it might sound! While they seem like pretty different elements, the colourful glitter and soap represents CUEVOLUTION’s ethos as a brand and their designers – there is that deep sense of individuality as can be seen through the brands that they bring in but regardless of this difference, as whole, the labels they carry blend well together to create a wonderful that is CUEVOLUTION, and that’s what makes CUEVOLUTION stand out…hence the gold paint haha!
Interesting! Why do you enjoy working with CUEVOLUTION and what is it about CUEVOLUTION that you like?
When it comes to CUEVOLUTION, I mainly enjoy working with their founder, Ai Lim. It’s a good working relationship as she gives me the freedom to experiment and more importantly there’s that element of trust throughout the process of concept development and progress of the shoot. This is important especially since I do not link my camera to a computer screen during the shoot, so essentially the only person who has a whole view of the shoot at that particular point in time would be me and not the client. I also like the fact that they support emerging talents which is pretty fresh in the local scene. It is very exciting being able to work with amazing local and international talents from abroad.
What an interesting way of shooting especially since clients are so used to looking at the photos through the screen during the shoot and “editing” on the spot. Why do you choose to opt out of this?
I believe that having a screen limits what you do. I find that there is a lot of disruption in the flow of the shoot and that can hinder the process sometimes. I like to explore, and capture that special moment in between. While it might seem risky to others, I can say with confidence that every client that has hired me are happy with the results. I also think, to create and define a good photograph, there needs to be some element of risk in it. And it is only through that risk that you can potentially create some magical. That’s the whole point of photography, isn’t it?
“EVERYONE’S PERCEPTION IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT IN THE CREATIVE FIELD. I DO NOT DROWN MYSELF IN IT.”
What are your thoughts on the current fashion scene locally and globally?
I think the situation is pretty similar for all young designers. Locally, we have some amazing young talents here and there is definitely room for growth in our fashion scene. But there is a lack of opportunity to showcase and support them fully on an international level and that is highly frustrating given the amount of talents that we have. It’s great that we have organisations that aim to do so, however, there could be a lack of understanding as to what is truly needed by these designers. Funding is definitely an issue, but they need to get to the root of the problem and ask what is really needed from these young talents to prepare them for the global stage. With so many interesting and exciting designers all over the world, how do our local talents stand out amongst these stars. In a highly competitive and fast-paced age, it is very important to understand these fundamentals and work towards a bigger goal.
As a photographer do you think there is anything lacking in the current photography scene locally and globally?
I think that’s a very broad question and it really depends on which angle you are looking at. Everyone’s perception is going to be different in the creative field. I do not drown myself in it.
Are there any notable young photographers that have caught your eye recently?
I am really liking what Coco Capitan is doing currently. There’s that imperfection and randomness between coco and her subject. It might seem simple, but somehow rather, every portrait she captures draws people into it. I love her attitude and it’s clearly portrayed though her photography. I think it’s important for a photographer to be able to have that in their work.
What about recent campaigns?
I’ll go with the Calvin Klein campaign shot by Harley Weir. Traditionally, CK have always had a little sex appeal in their campaigns, but I personally think that Harley Weir raised the bar and brought it to another level. It’s still provocative but with more of an artsy touch to it.
“I LOVE HER ATTITUDE AND IT’S CLEARLY PORTRAYED THROUGH HER PHOTOGRAPHY. I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER TO BE ABLE TO HAVE THAT IN THEIR WORK.”
In terms of style, what do you think is trending at the moment and is it momentary?
I believe fashion photography has moved towards a more “lifestyle-themed” direction. It simply isn’t just about the clothes anymore. It has to mean something, be integrated and accepted into the viewers lives almost. Just like shots in photography, I believe everything that we do is momentary. As photographers, we live to capture that moment.
From your previous works, you work closely with designers YII and MOTOGUO, how did that special relationship come about?
It all started when I needed a stylist urgently and Yii agreed to do it as a favour (he was just my hangout buddy back then). We got along really well and we’ve been a team since then. As for Moto, he was was still a student when we first met. After his graduation, we worked together for his final collection’s look book, followed by a shoot which we managed to publish on FUCKING YOUNG!. It was pretty amazing when he received his first order! Just like CUEVOLUTION, what makes it special is being given the freedom to experiment and milk my creative juices. I feel that they are a breath of fresh air to the local fashion industry as they do not fit the norm of how everyone else perceives fashion in Malaysia and I think it’s a good start towards something even bigger. Both have progressed internationally and that is an achievement for us especially when Malaysia is still very young in the global fashion industry compared to countries like Japan and the UK for example.
Your current muse? Who would you love to shoot now ?
Hmm,…interesting question. I don’t really have anyone in mind at the moment I’m afraid but it would definitely be someone who catches my attention.
Something interesting you have done recently…
Right, I just gave up my mobile in March – so far so good!
That’s very random, haha! Cats are independent, and can afford my limited attention, especially since I am always out and about working on shoots and sets.
You can’t leave your house without?
My notebook. I’m forgetful you see… that and I scribble and doodle a lot. When an idea comes to mind, I have to note it down instantly.
What else do you like to do in your past time apart from photography?
I love cooking! Mostly western food, I love baking and I usually get inspiration from KINFOLK magazine. Love it!
Your future plans?
I tend to just go with the flow of life.
We say our goodbyes with a huge warm hug, hands waiving in the air as she quietly and gently slips back into the crowd unnoticed like a cat. Contrary to most beliefs, she’s not so scary after all.
*Zhong Lin’s works have been published in CHEADS, OYSTER, FUCKING YOUNG! and INDIE.
**Photo credits: Zhong Lin