In one of the most popular art districts in the East of Beijing, photographer Zhang Wei invites me into his stylish studio in a dark backyard. The neighborhood seems central and lively, even though we are at least two hours from the city centre. Zhang Wei has the view of someone who has seen quite a lot of things in life. He speaks quietly and thoughtfully.
On his walls hang world famous people depicted in perfect photographs. Zhang Wei is a master of illusion, because he has never met any one of these personalities. The celebrities are collages of hundreds of faces of Chinese people that were photographed by Zhang Wei. He says other people’s faces are his way to express himself. He pours us a boiling hot tea. The first sip burns the tongue. “It took a long time. About 15 years ago I truly wanted to find a way to express myself. At the beginning I was just very confused. I tried every method that I could think about. And actually all the methods were just about the method: So I came to the camera to record what I saw, to record what was around me. At first I just focused on myself and on my friends. Then I found out it would be a bigger thing to connect with the society – that is the process. Before that I made all my work just for myself or my friends. After that I just thought time has come to observe the world.”
That connection to society through expressing himself is, for Zhang, the key to his being an artist. To reach this point means hard work: “Before a lot of people actually told me that my work was not good. I felt really sad when they said that. As time passed on I thought it doesn’t matter if someone says something bad about my work. I didn’t care and just wanted to try my best.” This tenaciousness is important for Zhang, but one should not confuse it with trying more of the same: “Not only trying. Being an artist is not just to try things. It is mostly about experience and also to let it happen naturally.” After that he brews a new tea, another type this time.
It is important for Zhang to state his social connection to his fellow man as the core of his art: “I always try to record not just the moments but also the changes because our society keeps on changing all the time. I want to give back my thoughts about this to the people who see the pictures. And hopefully through this they also can connect better to themselves. So I definitely think that I want to help people.” Art is the instrument he chose in order to create such a connection to society. He names communication as the most important requirement: “Communication with each other is the key. What I like are some resident projects where artists from all over the world live together and communicate with each other. And they all say: ‘We are actually the same. All that we try is freedom.’ To give such a spirit also to the rest of the world is a fantastic idea.” He smiles and nods slowly. The time has come to say Goodbye.
Please read the full interview here.
Interview and Blog-Post: Benjamin Stromberg
Translation: Benjamin Stromberg and Stephanie Barnes
Picture Source: The Artist