Zhong Lin challenged herself to take one portrait a day for an entire year
When the Taiwan-based photographer found herself at home during lockdown, she wanted to rediscover what it means to start from nothing.
All photography Zhong Lin
Artist Zhong Lin has been making the most of this sudden excess of time. In April, she announced a new project: to create a new visual every single day for the next 365 days. For anyone who's been in lockdown and has been feeling subjected to a paralysing pressure to be productive, to self optimise, to become the best version of yourself -- whether through baking sourdough bread, learning calligraphy or shooting an indie short film -- but only managed to stare at the ceiling for days on end and get up at 2pm to make breakfast, this might sound harrowing. Not for Zhong though, a self-taught photographer who's been making waves in the fashion industry and beyond with her colourful and compelling work.
“I want to rediscover what it means to start from nothing. No limits, no boundaries and no definition,” the artist announced on Instagram. She explains how she's learnt that there is no right or wrong way when it comes to creativity, and that she wants to invite us, the viewer, to tag along on this yet to be named journey. Not that the project has been smooth sailing from the get-go -- Lin is quick to admit that she too felt stressed in the beginning. "The first and second week of this project was the most stressful time I've ever had. I had difficulty coming up with ideas and struggled to find collaborators to work with, like subjects who wanted their photos to be taken, hair and make-up artists, et cetera. It was so frustrating that I even began to wonder whether I was actually going to pull this off."
But then Big Wang, Lin's first assistant, who if you pay close attention has been tagged in every single photo of the project, reminded her of the initial motivation she had for the project, and that it'd be pointless to continue applying pressure onto herself if she didn't enjoy the creative process. "It was all about 'creating', 'sharing' and 'trying fun new things’ that had stimulated me in the first place”, Lin says. "That’s when I forced myself to buckle up and look deep in my heart to see what I wanted to achieve with this 365 challenge. I started to approach people from various backgrounds, to allow spontaneity to enter my decision making process and to live by my new mantra 'enjoy to create' every single day of shooting."
The result so far -- mind you, we are only on day 83 -- is an incredible and vast body of work consisting of poetic beauty portraits, surreal fashion shots featuring distorted garments, intimate close-ups of tearful young women, and many more, all shot around Taiwan. The country turned out to provide her with the perfect context against which she could explore her new approach. Unlike many other countries in the region, there was no strict state-mandated lockdown -- thanks to diligent communication and its past successes with containing SARS, the country has only had 451 confirmed cases to date -- which meant that Lin could still freely travel and work. While it has been incredibly inspiring to create work all over the country, she says that taking the project beyond its borders definitely is something she's currently considering.
Lin herself grew up in Malaysia, a huge inspiration in her work. "It is a country where many different cultures coexist. I myself grew up with many influences -- I could be eating Malaysian food while watching Hollywood movies, with Indian music playing in the background, while talking to my family in Mandarin. All these diverse cultures have nourished me and have played equal and crucial roles in my photography." It might also inform her distinct use of colour: vibrant, silky colours like red, blue and orange are a recurring motif in her work -- juxtaposed with one another. This subtle yet powerful play with colour could also be attributed to the strong passion for cinematography she has. Indeed, the way she captures evocative, seductive scenes, strongly reminds us of some of our favourite master cinematographers -- take Wong-Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love and Fallen Angels for example, but also Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
"My father is a cinema aficionado and he’d take me to the movies a lot when I was a kid. That specific period of my life has undoubtedly nurtured my aesthetic. I am always drawn to cinematic effects... but for me the medium of photography remains one of the simplest ways to communicate a sense of beauty and allure," Lin says. And that she has. Ever since appearing on the radar of leading magazines and brands worldwide, the photographer has been in great demand, constantly travelling the world shooting editorials and campaigns.
"The 365 project has been on my mind for a long time but due to my packed schedule I never found the time to actually put it into practice. I am a person who needs a constant flow of challenges thrown at her in order not to get bored. The photo-a-day project has given me the means to challenge myself and to constantly find ways to adjust -- it's been an important way to ask myself what I really want."
While she's been churning out a photograph a day until now, exactly as she promised, she reveals that she doesn't intend to just stick to photography, and that mediums like video and GIFS, also have caught her attention. We can't wait to see how it's going to unfold, and in the meantime, we'll be on the lookout for photograph no. 84.
All images courtesy Zhong Lin