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SURREAL WORLDS: ZHONG LIN

From intimate personal portraits to close-ups of natural forms, Zhong Lin’s photographs seem to inhabit the aura of another world. Born in Malaysia and based in Taiwan, Zhong Lin has become known for her splendid, surreal, and sensuous style. We caught up with the self-taught photographer to discuss her childhood, creative process, and inspirations.

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#172 #Ringbuoy | Photograph Zhong Lin

Plants sprouting out of an eye. A wrist pierced with a flower stem. Bodies elegantly trapped in fabric. Once you've delved into Zhong Lin's dream-like worlds, it's hard to look away. Daring and delicate, mysterious and mesmerising, the Malaysian photographer’s lush and vibrant images are a feast for the eyes.
Lin, a self-taught photographer, started becoming fascinated with taking photos during her college years while learning how to develop black-and-white film. Since then, she has become known in the fashion world for her idiosyncratic visual language, with her work being featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, W Korea and British Vogue, among many others.
Influenced by everything from her multicultural upbringing, Lin’s imaginative photographs showcase her distinct style, hinting at a diverse array of inspirations. Having grown up in Malaysia, where a hodgepodge of cultures live relatively harmoniously together, she told us that being exposed to so many different kinds of languages, food, art, film, and music has left an indescribable imprint on her artistic practice.
Some of Lin’s photographs, especially the ones saturated in deep reds, have a cinematic quality. Atmospheric and tinged with sensuality, they look like they could be a scene in a film by Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai. So it’s no surprise to learn that she used to go to the cinema every week with her father when she was younger. “As a child, I have always been fascinated with filmmaking and would often find joy in [my] imaginations,” she said in an email interview. “I don’t [have] a particular inspiration, there are too many to choose from, but the films or art that I love inspires me subcon-sciously without a doubt.”
Oftentimes, Lin’s images involve integrating a natural element, such as flowers, insects, animals or fruits, in an unexpected way. In addition to her trusty camera, the photographer explained to us that she often relies on her intuition during the creative process to lead her through unpredictable situations.

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                                                                                                                     #349 #Pulse | Photograph Zhong Lin                                                                                                                    #318 #Firefly | Photograph Zhong Lin

Last year, after the pandemic-related travel restrictions started rolling out, Lin was stuck in Taiwan, unable to travel for work. As a response, she started ‘Project 365,’ a personal project that challenged her to shoot and share a photograph everyday for the next year. “I want to rediscover what it means to start from nothing. No Limits, No Boundaries and No Definition,” she announced in an Instagram post in April 2020.
“I have learn[ed] that there is no right or wrong in creativity and with this vision I invite you to take on this journey with me to title what is yet to be named,” continues Lin in the post. "Throughout this project I will be stretching beyond borders, posting different angles and perspectives and it will be an attempt to channel my creatives.”
Not only was Lin successful in completing the project in Taiwan, but the result is absolutely breathtaking. The collection of images, ranging from eerie close-ups of faces fusing with flowers to striking scenes of women frolicking in natural landscapes, is a testament to her ability to be committed, creative and open-minded regardless of how circumstances change around her. 
Below, we talk to Zhong Lin about when she started her journey in photography, what her go-to tools are for a shoot, and surprisingly, her favourite camera to use.

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#Blow | Photograph Zhong Lin

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#363 #Goretex | Photograph Zhong Lin

When did you first pick up a camera and consciously direct the image?
I can’t exactly recall the exact time when I first picked up a camera. It was more of a feeling when I took that photo, I remembered how I felt at that very moment. It all started with my fascination with the process of developing for black and white film during college. I love creating, and photography happens to be the medium accessible to me at that time.
Can you tell us about your upbringing/hometown and something that influenced your current work greatly?
I was born and raised in Malaysia. My hometown is a multiracial place where everyone is exposed to each other’s culture of food, art, and music daily. Their culture became part of me naturally. A common scenario would be, I will be eating Malay food while watching a Hollywood movie with Indian music playing in the background and conversing in Mandarin with my family. Both my parents are educated in different language medium, I was brought up in an open-minded environment. I was unbiased since young, absorbing all cultures and anything new like a sponge. All this plays a part in the art I create.

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Left & Right: #365 | Photograph Zhong Lin

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What has remained a constant source of motivation for you?
It is hard to pinpoint one thing/someone since there are many that can motivate or inspires me in a day. I do tend to get drawn towards to the mysterious, creepiness and mystical elements.
Do you have any particular inspirations in cinema or art that inspire you?
My father used to take me to the cinemas on a weekly basis when I was young, and as you al-ready know, Malaysia is a country rich of different cultures. I was introduced to movies in various languages, form, and styles. As a child, I have always been fascinated with filmmaking and would often find joy in imaginations. I don’t a particular inspiration, there are too many to choose from, but the films or art that I love inspires me subconsciously without a doubt.

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#350 #Sashimi | Photograph Zhong Lin


 

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Left: The Perfect Magazine | Photograph Zhong Lin - Right: #345 | Photograph Zhong Lin

What are your tools of the trade?
My camera and guts. No matter how top notch of an equipment you have, or how well-prepared you are for a shoot, when you encounter unpredictable moments, it’s up to you to make the gutsy move to save the situation.
What is your favourite camera go-to?
I would say disposable cameras. Mainly because it is just an aim and click, it doesn’t require any technical skills, or equipment, it is simple, travel friendly and convenient. I love to use it whenever I am travelling or for special occasions. Sometimes I keep the film roll for a while, maybe months, or a year without developing it. So, there is always an element of surprise then when you get it developed. Personally, the beauty of it is the unpredictability when the results are out, you are always able to find flaws that turns out beautiful, it’s somewhat like life I suppose.

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Left: Portrait | Photograph Zhong Lin - Right: #332 #CouchPotato| Photograph Zhong Lin

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Text : Charmaine Li

Images : Zhong Lin

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