Q&A: Daniel Zhang


What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Meme culture, fidget spinners, and hip hop hoverboards. What is it that interests you about photography? It makes me dig deeper, and takes me to places I wouldn’t otherwise go. I think the best photography is made when the photographer personally relates to the subject matter. I think you can see it in the work. What is the worst thing about city life? I’ve never lived in a big city before, outside of visiting my family in Chengdu. Probably paying rent? What part of the planet would you like to explore? More of China, in particular outside the larger cities. I want to go back and continue my work on the ancient porcelain trade route, so I want to explore more around that. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. This one’s easy; I’m studying theoretical physics at university right now. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? One time in Guangzhou whilst shooting my “Clear Skies Wait for Rain” project, I was photographing around the old site of the Whampoa anchorage, and my girlfriend and I were invited by some Buddhists onto a boat, which they sailed out into the middle of the Pearl River and released fish they had bought from the markets back into the river. It was utterly surreal, the light was perfect and the sun was setting over the Guangzhou skyline. But I’d ran out of film. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. A gongfu tea ceremony practitioner (if I knew how). Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. A family photo, but apart from those it would probably have to be be that one in Koudelka’s Gypsies: ”Slovakia, Velka Lomnica, 1963”, of the interior with the guys playing sax and accordion, and the couple dancing in the mirror in the background. I can’t believe that picture, it knocks it out the park for me. How often do you take other people’s advice? Rarely, but I often seek their verification. Describe a personal hell. Failing to meet one’s own expectations. Which living person do you most admire? My mum. On what occasion do you lie? If it means that someone won’t get hurt. What is the best way to educate yourself? Spend a lot of time doing something, and making mistakes.

What is the next book you want to read? Robert Adams’ new book of writings, “Art Can Help”. Ultimate camera? If someone could make a 6×7 rangefinder with a fixed 65mm lens that is light and crucially; sturdy, that would be wonderful. Most used camera? A Mamiya 7II with a 65mm lens, and my phone. What object do you want? Wong Kar-wai’s sunglasses, or a film reel of “In the Mood for Love”. What object do you need? 2-3 coffees a day and a PhD offer. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? An interactive library and debating chamber. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Absolutely not. Describe a cheap thrill. A really cold drink on a really hot day, or vice versa. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. My grandfather was an heir of a landowning family pre-Cultural Revolution. As a result, during the revolution his family were stripped of all their possessions, and he was unable to attend university. He became a railway engineer, rising quickly through the ranks, but as a result of his family background, was constantly assigned to the furthest away and most difficult jobs. He worked on the Qinghai-Tibetan railway for a few years, which connects mainland China and Tibet. It was very difficult for my mother’s family to have him away from home for so long. If I could I could bring a camera to any historic moment, I would photograph the building of this railway.  Are impulses more important than consequences? It depends if it’s about something you want to just keep to yourself or show other people. Other people can only see the consequences, not the impulses. Which talent would you most like to have? I’m happy with my interests now, so probably just to be a better photographer or physicist. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? To eat with my family, and head back to university.

b. 1995, Daniel Zhang, Cambridge/ Southampton UK. See more of his work — Website.