Photographers are notoriously shy when it comes to their own portraits
Z (Zhi Wei) a Singaporean fashion photographer based in New York, currently a sophomore at Parsons The New School for Design. He’s a frequent contributor to Lookbook.nu. His life in New York, he says, has been an immense influence on his photographic practice, which he currently sees as being in a state of flux. He is though, when you meet him, very enthusiastic, generous and I might add, a tad distracted, as we spoke during the solo exhibition of his summer project, 30 Days of Z at The Refinery.
What’s your background? I’m completely self-taught: I picked up photography when I was 16, I’m now 22 and have received a year and a half of formal education in Parsons. Two and a half more years to go!
What has a year of photography class in Parsons taught you? The most important takeaway – being self-taught I think I fell into the same trap as a lot of photographers with similar backgrounds – is that most of my work has been commercially focused, and Parsons is teaching me to explore photography as an art form, as opposed to having a purely commercial application. The classes are so open-ended that I’m free to explore my interests, developing both a fashion and fine art take on my work.
What are three cool places/things in NYC you discovered during the shoot that most people don’t know about? Coming from a Singaporean background everything looked good at first. I think the challenge was to figure out why certain areas were more appealing than others, and developing an aesthetic that involved more conscious thought about locations and how they help to drive the series. I’d recommend:
1. The Central Park Conservatory Garden 105th Street. It’s all the way up in Harlem and is the only formal garden in the city. Strangely enough it’s never really packed; I went there a couple times during the summer.
2. Coming Soon NY Cute store on Orchard Street. It’s the one with the huge pink neon sign. I think it’s one of those hidden secrets of the Lower East Side (and they may host the NY exhibition/book launch!)
3. Williamsburg waterfront There’s this particular area on the waterfront with beautiful views of Manhattan, we had to climb a fence to get in there but it was worth it. Other than that, we found so many beautiful rooftops and street corners to shoot on!
What equipment do you use? Contax G for the film shots, Canon 5D III for digitals. Pretty simple setup! All the exhibition prints were made by me in school – no external printers.
You can buy 30 Days of Z ($40) at www.zhi-wei.co