Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Alyssa Lorraine
Model: Joanna Bajena
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Alyssa Yee, Haiyin Lin
Accessories: Harlequin Romantique

So I can't remember the exact beginning now, but sometime last year I saved a few pieces of work by Georges de La Tour onto my computer. They sat innocuously on my harddrive, idling for a long time. Until one day, I came upon the images again, and suddenly was all like, candlelight is so cool! Who did this? I want to try this! And so I went looking for more of his paintings. 

The Dream of St Joseph
Christ in the Carpenters Shop - detail
The Penitent Magdalen

Sadly, planning the shoot wasn't as easy as when inspiration struck. We spent a couple weeks researching and sourcing for chambersticks I liked and ended up buying a handful -- from thrift stores, etsy, and one even came from Turkey. But lighting was a little tricky. After numerous tests and false starts I was worried that it was simply not going to work -- I didn't have anything that felt right to shoot with. The concept took a backseat after a while.

And then I scheduled a shoot with Joanna.

I didn't plan on shooting this concept at all initially (I had something else in mind entirely), but once we were done with the hair, makeup and styling, I knew I wanted to try. I took out the candles and candlesticks and started testing to see which ones worked best. The team probably thought I was just trying out the idea, which I often do on set for Motherland, but will then discard and go back to my original concept. When I carried on with this and eventually said, "Ok, we're done." I think everyone was pretty surprised haha. Yay for spontaneity on set?

A few days later, Toby and I went to check out the Vermeer exhibition at the Frick, and guess what, they totally had a de La Tour painting in permanent collection! When I saw it I was like, what, how did I not notice this the first time? I stared at it for a long while in disbelief. Because dude, this is fate. And I totally experienced a boatload of feelings here. Life was awesome.

When I finished up the picture some days later, I couldn't shake this special sense of affinity I'd come to feel for the picture because of the experience. Just ahh, life can be so interesting sometimes. 

And that's the story for this piece. :D Working on the last 2 now~~ 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Uncensored image can be viewed on my Tumblr.

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Gregg Brockington
Model: Germaine Persinger
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Bitna Kim, Tiffany Liu
Necklace & Body Chain: Harlequin Romantique

At the beginning of last year I did a self portrait in water. Motherland Chronicles had just started and the only model I had was myself, sometimes I just edited old photos for weeks I didn't shoot self portraits. I've been meaning to reuse the kiddy pool and shoot a model in it ever since then, but at the same time, I'd been circumspect about doing it because the water gets very cold, first hand experience and all that.

Eventually though, I was just like, omg screw this I want to shoot in water again! And so I made as much preparations as I could, and did all the things I didn't do the first time -- lined the floor with carpet, tarp and blankets, turned up the heater, and hoped for the best. And with more assistants, we were also able to constantly add hot water to the pool and that definitely helped with the water temperature. So thank you my lovely team for the great effort in keep Germaine warm.

Besides water, the other key element here are the flowers. There's not much to say about it other than I just arrange them however I think will look good for the shot depending on the model's pose. But I do however want to share a random interesting thought that occurred to me the other day. :D

So pretty much every time I decide to use flowers in a shoot, I buy them from the deli/florist down the street on the day itself. And since the choices are based on the season and what they stock at the shop on that very day, it means the store's inventory kind of influences and decides how and what I'm shooting each time. Take a moment to absorb the significance of that.

It basically goes like, here is a complete stranger deciding on what flowers to sell at his stands on any given day, because he thinks they will sell, I go there, make an arbitrary selection, bring them home, shoot something that's kind of important to me, post it on the internets. That person literally set the direction for a part of my life for a day, and affects what you see in the end artwork. Isn't that kind of awesome and mind-boggling? Just a little bit?

So anyway, random thought is random! But it makes me really thankful for these guys selling flowers, cuz if not for them many of the pieces for Motherland Chronicles wouldn't have happened at all. Thank you deli market strangers, you're awesome.

And that's that! A really super random anecdote from doing the series and shooting at home. Hope everyone's having a great week so far~ 8D

Monday, February 24, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Tatyana Kharkova
Model: Germaine Persinger
Assistants: Tiffany Liu, Melissa Castor, Evenlyn Liu
Dress: Leonid Gurevich.
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique
Shot with Profoto's new Umbrella Deep XL White~ Check out the post feature here. :D

Monday, February 10, 2014

Portrait Photography Cover & Interview, Feb 2014

Chinese interview! My first in a long long time. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to do it in English because my command of Chinese is so atrocious. :( So thank you Demi for all the translation work! 

It's an introductory sort of interview about the way I work and stuff. Uploaded the text pages in hi-res for those who understand Chinese. Below, I also have my almost-original interview answers to some of the questions, edited because I wrote most of it in broken English to make it easy for translation. If it sounds cold/weird it's only because I meant to add personal touches in Chinese. :D 

Can you tell us more about you? How did you start photography?

I was born in Beijing and moved to Singapore when I was 8. I was an air rifle shooter for 6 years in the national team growing up there. I'm based in New York now.

I started photography during foundation year of art school. We had a small photo project in our visual studies class, and from there I toyed with the idea of experimenting with photography. I started shooting fashion-focused images when I went into Fashion Design for my major.

What do you think about fashion photography? Are you a fashion person?

I've always liked art. I think of fashion photography as a medium where I could in my own way create a beautiful picture, I like the idea of being able to do that. I'm not very obsessed about fashion or trends, but I greatly admire the artistic value, aesthetics and innovation of great designers. 

How would you describe or define your work?

The foundation of my work is beauty. Built upon it are hints of fantasy and romanticism followed by a painterly touch.

Does your personal shooting style change with time?

Certainly, I'm inspired by different things at different periods of my life. Change is constant, I don't try to fight it.

How did you find your style as a photographer?  

Like anyone else I suppose, my style comes from simply shooting a lot and doing what I think will make a good image, the taste of which I guess comes from my preference in art and who I am as a person.

What is the most important elements in your photography? Composition, space, time, light, feeling or emotion?

It's a combination, with feeling and composition at the foremost of it. Feeling comes from the experimentation of lighting most of the time, and composition wise I usually sketch out what I have in mind beforehand.

What kind of light do you prefer? Do you use strobes or mainly natural light? If it's mostly natural light, how do you find such a great lighting conditions?

I do a lot of studio work with strobes, but when on location it's mostly just natural light. I like both.

How do you pick models and make decision of their styling and makeup? Do you communicate with your model often and how?

If it's fashion or commercial work, I discuss picking the model with the stylist, editor or art director. Clothes and makeup are usually decided by the magazines for editorial work, while commercials would be a team effort in decision-making with the client's input.

For personal shoots it's all up to me. I pretty much get to pick whoever and whatever I like for model, styling and makeup direction, though of course sometimes my team contributes with suggestions or ideas for their specialization.

Communication wise, I'll let the model get familiar with my work and show them photos with mood of what I'm shooting, then direct them accordingly.

Who are your favorite photographers or artist? Is there any influence?

I love so many painters and illustrators, but John William Waterhouse and Yoshitaka Amano were my first influences. I'm also very much affected by friends who are illustrators and concept artists for movies, books and games. Paintings are generally more interesting to me since I can't draw.

How do you prepare for a photoshoot? What happens during the session?

I usually start with an idea or concept and go from there. Once I've decided on something, everything else is a reaction towards making that vision a reality. The right model, clothes, and hair and makeup all come from having the concrete idea first. On the day of the shoot the team will be prepared and know what we are going to do based on references I've already sent, so I just let everyone do their job. I'll check on hair and makeup from time to time to make sure the looks are what I want since everyone's interpretation of an idea can be different. And then we shoot.

Do you work alone or with a large team? Could you please do a brief explanation?

I work with a moderately small team for personal work, usually hair stylist, makeup artist, model, and 2-3 assistants. But there are definitely times where it's just me and the model, where I'll do her makeup and hair then we just shoot.

Fashion and commercial shoots will be bigger, there is usually a stylist and their assistants, hair stylist, makeup artist, manicurist, and sometimes the hair/makeup artists' assistants as well. Depending on the scale of the shoot, there may also set designers, editors, art directors, creative directors, etc.

You have cooperated with a lot of fashion magazines and some big brands. Which experience impressed you most?

Harper's Bazaar Singapore was the first major fashion magazine I shot with. My beauty editor Alli Sim had an incredible eye for style and details, I learnt to be very meticulous with hair, makeup, nails, clothes and accessories from shooting with her. Those are definitely some of the most memorable experiences for me.

What do you like to do in you spare time?

I like reading and video games, I guess travelling too, but it's more like a way of life. I love ancient cities and old towns.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself something that would have made the start of your career as a photographer easier, what would it be?

Nothing, my motto is to never regret. Whatever was difficult, I would have had to experience it to become the person I am today.


And that's pretty much it~ I've answered some of these questions in the past before, but I feel like it's been a couple of years and the way I work has definitely changed, I used to just wing it for so many things. Hope you enjoyed the read!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #43 - Dreaming

Motherland Chronicles #43 - Dreaming

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Alex Stoddard, Diana Chao, Sophia Chang
Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique
Housing and strobe rental: AB Sea Photo, LA

More underwater. Read behind-the-scenes and things I learned from from this shoot here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Flowers in December

Flowers in December
Phuong My FW13/14 Collection

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Styling: Phuong My
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Viktorija Bowers
Model: Kwak Ji Young @ Wilhelmina
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Ernie Chang
Backdrop: Savage Universal

When I was writing my 2013 wrap-up post I realized that I never got around to posting a lot of the editorials I did last year. Figured I should at least put up my favourite one, sigh I am so bad at blogging. :(

Thursday, February 6, 2014

2013 Wrap-up

A little belated but here is my 2013 wrap-up post!

It was an interesting year.

There wasn't anything earth-shattering in terms of academic or commercial success, but starting Motherland Chronicles and the journey it brought me on had definitely affected me in a big way. That, and moving to New York.

So usually, I do a retrospective of some sort here, but with the book for Motherland Chronicles still underway, I can't bring myself to write about the experiences in all that incompleteness. Instead, I'm going to do a recap on the other major events that happened besides Motherland Chronicles! And thank my teams and you guys profusely for being supportive and awesome.

Top 8 things that mattered:

1) Started reading because of subways and second-hand books. Discovered Lymond Chronicles and to my surprise, improved my English.

2) Exhibited in Milan with Photo Vogue photographers, curated by Vogue Italia. Found out my alcohol allergy had worsened by fainting at the opening. Glorious.

"A Glimpse at Photo Vogue" by Vogue Italia

3) In memory of a friend, I created the first piece of personal work for someone else for the first time. It's been ten years.

Motherland Chronicles #21 - Her Resting Place

4) Had many firsts for photography — cosplay, fire, underwater. It was all very new and exciting.

Reunited with Alodia to shoot my first cosplay picture: Motherland Chronicles #30 - Untitled Amano Girl
Motherland Chronicles #23 - Dive (behind the scenes)

5) Disbanded Infinity Seven, and wrote about my time in SC2. Read my superbly angsty blog post over on TeamLiquid.

Infinity Seven, Anaheim, 2013

6) Exhibited with Marc by Marc Jacobs and Vulture Magazine in Singapore. One of the most beautiful installations of my work, wish I could have been there.

7) Featured on Kotaku, a place I looked at often throughout the years, it meant a lot to me.

Kotaku: Where Fashion Meets Japanese Fantasy and StarCraft II

8) Finally saw Gundam Unicorn. I loved it so much that I rewatched the show four times. Gundam has always inspired feelings about humanity and strength in me. Things like: you have to find the strength within yourself. Believe! And even if it hurts, keep on saying even so, even so, and go on! So, yeah. Feelings.

Aside from the above, some other highlights include signing my first apartment lease, winning Beauty/Glamour Photographer of the Year at [FRAMED] Awards and meeting up with e-pals Kirsty Mitchell and Von Wong in Las Vegas.

I was fortunate to landed a number of covers, thanks to my great teams for their wonderful work and the editors for putting us up there, notably Elle Vietnam's June and September beauty issue, Factice Magazine #19, and British Journal of Photography's September issue.

Thank you Savage Universal for the sponsorship, who gave me a lot of options to play around with for my studio work. And Casin dei Nobili, Harlequin Romantique and Xiaolin for contributing some incredibly beautiful hand-crafted masks, jewelry, and clothing for Motherland Chronicles. 

And the wonderful guys at ArmStreet for hosting me at Pennsic War 42 in Pittsburgh, which was my first camping experience ever. I tried on some armour, wore a dress for 2 days (!!), braided my hair, took classes on 10-13th century Russian fashion, and watched a medieval battle. I've never experienced anything else like it. It was awesome.

Of course, I would also randomly discovered that I've had lifetime of anime/manga hair in the mean time.

In September I met up with Sugizo in LA! I can't wait for my new book to be ready so I can gift it in return when he gives me Luna Sea goodies.

At the end of the year I went to Cancun with mum, sis and relatives. It was the first time I'd been with my mum and sis together overseas, so it was very unexpected, new, and exciting.

And that's really it for the year! To wrap it up, here's an Instagram video recap. I want to say thank you all for the support, especially for Motherland Chronicles. I can't wait for the project to be ready for Kickstarter, and for you guys to finally have the book. Thank you so much for following my journey so far, I hope 2014 will be even more exciting and inspiring.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #40-41 - From the Ashes

Motherland Chronicles #40, #41 - From the Ashes

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Kelsey Petersen
Makeup: Satya Linak
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Pyrotechnician: Sky Rockit
Production Assistant: Sophia Chang
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Xun Chi 

Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique

Last year I was on set shooting the campaign for a fragrance ad where we set a car on fire. Ever since then, I'd been itching to play with fire again, because who doesn't wanna play with some for their photography?

When I was back in Irvine in November I decided to do something about it, so together with the team we drove to Salton Sea. Mostly because I wanted an unlimited open space to work where no one will disturb us regardless of what we did, but also because I wanted fire on water (or is it water on fire?). I'm so close to actually trying this underwater, I think I may just try figure that out for next time. This was a really fun experience. :D

In other news, I'm months behind schedule for blog posts so I'll just be updating photos for now. I'll work backwards in adding behind the scenes after the project is done, if time permits. Only 4 more pieces left and it's a wrap! Can't wait for the book~

Happy new year everyone! ♥

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Motherland Chronicles #42 - Tabitha

Motherland Chronicles #42 - Tabitha

Photography/makeup: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Model: Tabitha Ashura
Photo Assistants: Alyssa Yee, Shirley Yu
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique

Tabby is a model and friend of one of my favorite artists Lu Cong. He was in NY a while ago and introduced us when he came on set one of my shoots. 

I meant to do a casting test with Tabby but she stayed so far from me I ended up making it a Motherland shot in the end haha and did the makeup and everything to. So if it looks less stellar than usual you know whose fault that is. :( 

Also took a couple clean portraits while testing the new Profoto umbrellas, the light is so gorgeous! :3

Love this one so much cuz it looks exactly like her expressions in Lu Cong's paintings :D 

I'd been meaning to do a behind-the-scenes for the fire shoot but haven't had time, so this is up first, till I get around to finishing that one~ :D