21. 1. 2021

English Version | Portfolio: The shape of light

by Ana Murcho


Mirrors are a central accessory in her work. It is through them, and their reflections, that Ziqian Liu photographs herself, in a perfect symbiosis between human beings and nature. Her images, as beautiful as they are nostalgic, convey harmony and serenity, as if emerging from a parallel world of dream and fantasy.

In a place that has no name yet, somewhere between melancholy and modernity. This is where the inspirations for the work of Ziqian Liu (China, 1990) reside, elements that are imperceptible to the naked eye and that need extra attention - and an analysis made with the senses, and not with reason. They are almost ghostly presences, soft whispers that come to us through a play of light and shadows. After all, mirrors are the centerpiece of all her work, which captures what seems to be fragments of memories or moments forgotten in time. Based in Shanghai, licensed by the University of Technology in Sydney, self-described “independent photographer” and with extensive experience in making self-portraits, Liu has a long list of collaborations, including names like Chopard, Le Labo or La Prairie. On a chat with Vogue, she lifted a little of the veil that involves her creative process, and explained what it is like to live in a constant search for symmetry and order.

You started working in photography shortly after graduating. Can you tell us how it all started?
When I found that photography was the easiest way to release my emotions, I became more and more attracted to photography. Since I like to be alone during weekdays, it is easy and interesting to find a camera that can both record and create, and that allows me to do this independently. At the same time, photography calms my mind, and that is one of the reasons why it attracts me. At first, photography was just a hobby, but gradually I was invited to cooperate with different platforms. If my hobby could be combined with my career, I would be very lucky, so I decided to seize this opportunity. I've been a photographer for almost three years now.

Your self-portraits are ultra-minimalistic compositions, endowed with a subtle elegance, and I think that a large part of this is due to the fact that you are very skilled in the game of shadows and reflections, as well as the use of specific props, such as flowers and mirrors. Do you still remember the first time you used these pieces as accessories?
At the beginning, I added plants by accident in the shooting, thinking that the interaction between the body and the plants was very beautiful. [...] But after a long time of photographing with plants and taking care of flowers and plants, I found the beauty of the balance between man and nature. Since then, I have made clear my shooting theme, which cannot be separated from the body and plants. However, compared with nature, the body is both a prop and a foil. The elements of mirror and fruit are related to the main themes in my works: it's a symbiosis between human and nature. Human beings and other creatures in nature live in the same world, breathe the same air, depend on each other, tolerate each other, and to a certain extent, all things are equal. I try to find a state of balance and symbiosis between human and nature in my works, because only in this state can beauty be most reflected. This is why all my works are shot under natural light, and also to reflect the most natural and real state.

How is your creative process? What inspires you?
Sometimes I get the images in my head first, but more often I improvise. Bringing the imaginary picture into the real world is a very physically demanding process for me. In order to ensure that the mirror can accurately reflect the expected thing, I have to try many times to find the angles. Sometimes there is a big difference between the imagination and the actual operation, so I will adjust the original shooting idea temporarily. The whole process is really hard, but it is very satisfying to see the final result of my shooting. In fact, there is no specific source of inspiration, many times the shooting content is very random, no plan. The process of fiddling with props can produce some interesting images. Even the first time I took a picture with a mirror was when I was playing with it. [...]  There are so many things I can enumerate that I think it is just to observe first and then reorganize the information in my brain.

What would you like viewers to feel when viewing your photos?
I hope my works can bring the audience a small world which is calm but not flat, and construct a space through images. I think this space belongs to myself as well as to the viewer. For me, when I am shooting, I am completely alone. I think this is the freest time. I will feel the thoughts from my heart and express myself freely. For viewers, I hope they can step into the small world I created to find a moment of peace and bring themself into the work. This is also why I often hide my face. I think once the face appears in the image, no matter whether the facial features are beautiful or not, the viewer's attention may be focused on the face first, and it is easy to ignore other elements in the work. The expression of emotion through the face will be very precise and direct, but I may prefer to use indirect way. Secondly, through the works, I hope to show the external softness and delicacy of women and the inner strength. Tenderness and tenacity coexist, which is also one of my expectations for myself.

You have a special relationship with mirrors, the theme behind this edition. Why are they so important to you?
First of all, visually, I like the reflection of the mirror to show the fused image. [...] Secondly, it has something to do with my heart's desire. In my heart, What I desire most is symmetry and perfect order, no matter the appearance of things or the communication mode between people. However, this is too idealistic after all. After all, the society is unbalanced, and some imperfection will set off its real existence. In my works, the images in the mirror represent the idealized world I hope for. The integration with the outside just reminds me to respect and recognize the imbalance in the real world, but also to adhere to my own inner order and principles.

Translated from the original on Vogue Portugal's The Mirror issue, published january 2021.
Full credits and spread on the print issue.