Zhong Lin has laid down a new creative manifesto, challenging herself to produce 365 new photographs in 365 days
“Every Visual Starts from a Blank Page,” says Zhong Lin in the inaugural post of her new and ambitious Project 365. The Malaysian-born photographer has pledged to make a new work every day for the next year. “I want to rediscover what it means to start from nothing,” she says. “No Limits, no boundaries, and no definition.”
The self-taught photographer, whose work has been lauded by the likes of Vogue China and Harpers Bazaar China, has been anticipating the chance to challenge herself in this way. “Project 365 has been on my mind for a long time but, due to my packed working schedule, it didn’t really have time to pan out,” she tells Dazed. “The breakout of COVID-19 happened to give me a pause and an opportunity to start this project.”
Her manifesto is an exercise in amplifying and stretching the capacity of her creativity (and ours, too). “I have learnt that there is no right or wrong in creativity,” she declares. “Throughout this project I will be stretching beyond borders, posting different angles and perspectives and it will be an attempt to channel my creativity... Since all possibilities are mine to find out and yours to relate to, I will be laying my work in your hands and hoping my perspective will become yours/ours.”
Now on day 96, she’s already created a diverse and richly imaginative collection of lush images, each one so distinct and dreamy. Below, we talk to Zhong Lin about why she embarked on such an ambitious scheme, how she manages to create a new image every day, and the future of Project 365.
Post 01 of Project 365 felt like a creative manifesto, can you tell us more about your thoughts behind this?
Zhong Lin: As the caption manifesto reveals, this project starts out from ‘nothing’ as everything all begins with null and void. So it could become anything and everything, in the end, depending on the viewer’s perspective. In the beginning, I just wanted to create beautiful things without boundaries, with different people and talents I meet at work or in life… and to share my visions with the world.
What was your initial inspiration for embarking on such an ambitious project?
Zhong Lin: I was travelling and working among different places for some years and constantly meeting versatile, talented people around the world. And I’d been thinking it’d be so cool to work with these people creating something that’s free from limits; just create to create; create to share; create to try new things.
“I’d been thinking it’d be so cool to work with these people creating something that’s free from limits; just create to create” – Zhong Lin
Could you share a bit more about how it began? And what impact has COVID-19 had on the project?
Zhong Lin: Project 365 has been on my mind for a long time but, due to my packed working schedule, it didn’t really have time to pan out. The breakout of COVID-19 happened to give me a pause and an opportunity to start this project. The travel ban incurred by the pandemic impedes me from travelling around the world to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, as I originally imagined, but I’m glad that I happen to be in Taiwan for work during the COVID-19 period, and it was here that I started my project.
Taiwan has taken this pandemic seriously from the very beginning with holistic protective measures and coping systems, thanks to their previous experience of dealing with SARS. They had cases quite early but they managed to contain it well and strived to restore normality. There is no compulsory quarantine imposed, so I’m lucky – I can travel around Taiwan discovering new places, new people, and new things to carry out my Project 365 successfully every single day without being confined indoors or in a specific area.
Could you tell us about any memorable high and low points you’ve encountered during this process?
Zhong Lin: I imposed quite a lot of stress on myself in the first and second week when the project just started. I had difficulty in coming up with ideas, and also how to find the collaborators, such as subjects, hair, and makeup artists etc. I even started to doubt myself and wonder if I could make 365 days happen. It was a memorable low point. However, thanks to my first assistant, Big Wang, who everyone can notice is being tagged in every single work, reminded me of my initial intention – of why I started this project – and encouraged me to enjoy the creative process. After that low point, I start to explore the beauty of Project 365.
A high point would be anytime when myself and all the collaborators on the day have tacit synchronisation and share the same vision toward the work we’re about to create. There will always be new talents joining the project and it’s exciting, but also challenging to generate chemistry with new people. But when everyone clicks on the same page and there’s flow and mutual understanding, that’s the high point every time.
Your images have often been described as cinematic. What role and influence has cinema had on your work?
Zhong Lin: The enlightenment of cinema comes from my father. My father is a cinema aficionado and he’d take me to watch movies frequently since I was a kid. My visuality and aesthetics are influenced and could be said, to have been nourished and nurtured from that time. Therefore, I’m always drawn to cinematic effects and, for me, the photography medium is one of the simplest ways to present its beauty and allure.
Have you begun to see any themes emerging in your images?
Zhong Lin: Yes, there’ll be new themes coming up and they’ll be revealed in the following Project 365. What they are, I’ll leave it for everyone to observe and find the answers by keeping up with the project.
How do you keep inspired and motivated to come up with a new image per day?
Zhong Lin: Changes. I’m a person who needs new changes or new excitements flowing into my life continuously, otherwise, I’d get bored easily. Getting out of my comfort zone and making changes is what I always look for. And doing Project 365 gives me the momentum because I get to explore and push my boundaries. For example, I can be in wild nature or a place where I usually definitely wouldn’t go, and I’ll press my brain so hard for days just to come up with new creative juice. There is always a time that I want to change completely to create something different from what I usually do, and that’s how I get motivated.
Can you tell us more about your practice and share any advice about how to stay so productive and creative?
Zhong Lin: Personally, I don’t like to be boxed in a certain practice or any routine. I like change. So being spontaneous and going with the flow, following my instincts and mood is what I’d prioritise. For me to stay productive and creative is to observe every subtlety in daily life, stay open-minded, and embrace the spontaneity.
Is there an arc to the images? How do you imagine the project might evolve and, ultimately, conclude?
Zhong Lin: No. We started out this project without limits so there’s no rule or any fixed expected results we want it to achieve. We keep open-minded and welcome anything that could happen. Especially when it comes to being creative, no line or box should be drawn around it.
What would you like your followers to take away from this project?
Zhong Lin: Anything. Whatever my followers can see, feel, gain or take from my project, it’s all theirs. Perspective is very subjective and, as I started out this project from a void, anything can be grown from my work. So I encourage my followers to take anything they can retrieve from my project.
Have you learned anything about yourself during this process?
Zhong Lin: I am learning and benefiting from different things from Project 365 every day. Sometimes it could be the change of my mindset toward something; sometimes it’s the new shooting angle I discover; sometimes it’s a new and unprecedented spark with the same subject I shot before, and of course, there are practical skills getting improved. Project 365 allows new things to enter my life every day and, when you have new things clashing you, you also have the occasion to go back to the basic self asking what you really want. This process makes me grow every single day.