Interview with Jiamin Zhu
Jiamin Zhu is a software engineer by day, and a photographer during the weekends.
She started with drawing female figures wearing elaborate Asian or European wardrobes when she was young, and now she spends the majority of her free time photographing portraiture.
Jiamin is a self-taught photographer who loves to do creative collaborations with models, makeup artists, hair stylists, and wardrobe stylists. She loves to portray beautiful models in her photos. Her photos are very colorful, emotional or elaborate and contain some unusual elements that are not found in every day photography. She is especially interested in photoshooting a story line of some sort to portray humanity.
Besides doing photography she has had different “serious” hobbies during various times in her life. Jiamen had been a dancer on stage and a choreographer for student performances in college. She is fond of learning to play different musical instruments, to name a few – keyboard, piano, flute, violin, Chinese harp, Chinese violin (er hu), and harmonica. Due to her obsession with musical instruments she minors in music, and was quite passionate about doing music composition at one point. She also love to read Chinese books that portray human relationships and how we struggle to maintain relationships with other humans and the greater society. At one point Jiamin was writing Chinese poems and novels about sexual abuse, love, being lonely and being selfish.
” I think many of these hobbies influence the way I do my photography today, in which I am not only about taking pictures, but setting a mood for my pictures.”
Currently she is still building up her portfolio and is experimenting with various styles. ”Until I run out of ideas, photography will remain a drug that I am addicted to during my free time.”
Jiamin, it is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little about where you were born and your childhood?
I was born in Guangzhou, China, and moved to Hawaii when I was 12 years old. I speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and English but my root is deeply influenced by Chinese culture.
Your mother is very artistic an has had a great influence on you. Can you tell us a little about her?
I would say my creative side is heavily influenced by my mom, who is an artist in many ways – Chinese literature teacher, Chinese opera performer, dancer, choreographer, sketcher, calligrapher, singer, costume designer. She didn’t get a professional job being an artist but she pursues them regardless, even more so now that she’s about to retire in Hawaii. Currently, she has been choreographing and performing on stage with other Chinese moms in the neighborhood.
Can you describe your style?
I have always been attracted to visual arts when I was a child, particularly in Japanese manga books. My mom taught me drawing so I started to draw manga characters when I was young. Throughout my childhood I had been very fond of drawing beautiful females in either elaborate Asian or European wardrobes. This process is the root of my photography today. I had been drawing during my free time, then I got my first digital point-and-shoot camera in College. I took a Graphic Art class that introduced me to software like Photoshop and Flash. By then I started to experiment with digital rendering for class assignments.
How did you first get interested in photography?
Eventually I moved to Seattle for my job. One day I was playing dress up and I took some pictures since I spent so much time getting ready. Then I did some post processing to the pictures with Photoshop and thought to myself the entire process is like perfecting a drawing, except it’s done digitally as opposed to use a pen. I post those pictures and got lots of comments from friends. Some of my girl friends said they would like to be my models for fun. I thought why not. Then I started taking pictures for them. I began to read books about photography techniques, and I experiment with them. I developed ideas and then realized those ideas in a photoshoot. I first learned about ModalMayhem when I met some freelance models at a fashion show hosted by my friend’s boutique shop. Since then I have been hooked into collaborating with random creative artists from ModalMayhem.
One thing quite uinque to you is the idea of incorporate acting and story telling into photography. Tell us a little about the above image, “Guns and Roses”.
Guns and Roses is inspired by lyrics from a Chinese song. The gist of the song talks about how everyone wears a mask to hide their true intention. We then do things to manipulate people to react to our desires. Relationship is a contract that makes people appear to get along, while betrayal is a never ending theme. In short, we are never what we appear to be. I love these lines from the lyrics (direction translation) – “When I let you betray me, then you are indebted to me. When I hide my sadness, then you think I am patient. When I am being generous, then you enjoy your freedom. When your days of glory are finally over, that’s exactly what I am waiting for”.
I really love this concept and I want to develop a story with two models. The story board is about a mafia guy meeting a beautiful girl, and he falls in love with her. He runs away with her, but it turns out that she is actually an undercover spy whoes true intention is to kill him. As he is trying to hold on to her in the last couple scens, she kills him without hesitation and walks away.
Another is “Pandora’s Box”. Tell us about how you conceptualized and executed these photos.
The model contacted me expressing desire to incorporate a story and avant-garde dark lolita inspired makeup and fashion look into the photoshoot. I thought perhaps it’ll make a stronger impression if we can act out a scene around an object to intensify the shoot. I want to go for something dark, yet still achievable. I was thinking roses and fake blood. Then I looked over my jewelry box on the table and the story of Pandora’s Box came into my mind. I read that story when I was young and I remember how dark it was when she opened the box of evils. Originally we wanted to shoot inside a industrial scrapyard for a post-apocalyptic kind of feel for the ending shots. Unfortunately the scrapyard was closed so I cheated by photoshopping some colors into shots we’ve captured in front of an old train. I think they work out nicely =)
When you shoot do you storyboard out your ideas?
It depends on who I am shooting with. If the model expresses desires to do more than just a photoshoot I will likely suggest incorporating storyboard ideas. For example, I found model who messaged me with their poems to be the perfect candidates for storyboard type of photo shooting because the models have a great desire to express, and that is very important for storyboard. If the model or stylist simply want to collaborate and we have never worked together before then I might just do the shoot and see how it goes. Sometimes we come up with interesting ideas that all connect well to form a storyboard at the end.
What do you hope to do to take your photography to the next level?
That is a very good question and I am not exactly the answer yet. Now I just want to focused on getting better and explore as many ideas as I can. Meanwhile during this process I hope to find artists that share similar visions and desires so we can really collaborate to bring our projects to the next level. At the end of the day I want to make sure I am still enjoying photography as much as I can so that it’s not a job or obligation. Hence I am currently not restriced to paid gigs because I want this path to be purely passion driven and not business driven. I really want to maintain that purity no matter what level I am going to take my photography to.
Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Yes tons! I am bless to have worked with many really talented artists as well as amazing individuals I hope we can continue to collaborate. I also wouldn’t mind collaborating with new artists so I am very opened at this point. As long as I can enjoy my photoshoot!
You mentioned you were, at one time, writing. Have you considered using your writing and photography skills together?
Yes. Incorporating my own writing into the photoshoot is a way for me to blend those two skills together. My writings are mostly about human nature and human emotion so photoshooting models is a perfect setting. The challenge is to find the perfect locations and settings to create that mood. I have considered switching things up a bit, like maybe do a photoshoot for stick figures rather than humans. =b Maybe one day.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
My official website: