Dreamy, vibrant, and at times unsettling, Zhong Lin’s striking images are inspired by her diverse upbringing

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com

Born in Malaysia – to an English-educated father and Chinese-educated mother – Zhong Lin was raised on Hollywood movies, Japanese manga, Indian music, and Malaysian food. “These diverse cultures inspire my work deeply,” she reflects

Zhong Lin is known as a fashion photographer, but she resists being bound to the genre. “I do not define my work to a specific category,” says the Malaysia-born artist, who has been featured in publications such as GQ China, Marie Claire, i-D and Vogue Italia, and commissioned by brands including Nike, Puma, SK-ll and Opening Ceremony. 

Like many photographers working at the intersection of fashion and fine art, Zhong doesn’t see a distinction between personal and commissioned work. “Many think my work is often confined,” she says. “In reality, I’m open to anything.”

Zhong is a self-taught photographer. Her passion was ignited around a decade ago, while studying advertising in Kuala Lumpur. Developing black-and-white film in the darkroom, she discovered the potential of photography to “create new worlds”.

Utilising props such as fabric and makeup, as well as a touch of post-production, she renders surreal compositions characterised by texture and movement. Her eccentric style caught the attention of fashion magazines and brands, and her commercial career quickly gained traction. 

© Zhong Lin.
© Zhong Lin.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic halted international travel, Zhong found her work at a standstill. Stuck in Taipei, she initiated an ambitious personal series. In April 2020, she began Project 365 – challenging herself to create a new image every day for a year, with the results posted daily to her Instagram feed. 

Some days were easy – a vision developing weeks before – but others were demanding, made from the limited resources at home. “Truth be told, a creative person may be out cold of their creativity at times,” says Zhong. “I don’t like to limit myself in a place. I like to explore the world by experiencing things from unfamiliar perspectives.” The project strengthened Zhong’s connections in Asia’s creative scene, and she was approached by local stylists and makeup artists offering to collaborate. 

“Zhong Lin balances disquieting visions with a vibrant, popping colour palette and witty compositions, all the while maintaining an undertone of classical, serene beauty”

Ones to Watch nominator Chiara Bardelli-Nonino (Vogue Italia)

Zhong’s work is dreamlike, but it can also be chaotic and unsettling. This discord is perhaps rooted in her diverse upbringing. Born in Alor Setar, a city on Malaysia’s west coast, Zhong describes her country as “rich in cultures of different ethnicities”. 

She was raised by an English-educated father and Chinese-educated mother, watching Hollywood movies, reading Japanese manga comics, listening to Indian music, and eating Malaysian food – a heady mix of Malay, Chinese and European cuisines. “These diverse cultures inspire my work deeply,” she reflects. 

Her nominator, Vogue Italia’s Chiara Bardelli-Nonino, recognises and celebrates these influences: “Each one of her images opens up a new dimension, where her Malay, Chinese and English heritage merge together. She balances disquieting visions with a vibrant, popping colour palette and witty compositions, all the while maintaining an undertone of classical, serene beauty – be it in a personal endeavour, like the daunting Project 365, or in a fashion editorial.”

© Zhong Lin.

Despite the early recognition from global publications and brands, the artist feels she is just at the start of her journey and is determined to evolve. “I do not perceive what I’ve achieved as a success,” she says. “I want to push myself for improvements… learn new skills, stay passionate with my interests, and have freedom.” 

Not one to stand still, Zhong has archived her Instagram posts from Project 365, and is planning to relocate to Europe or the US this year. “[Project 365] is the past, and I’m now embarking on a journey and welcoming a new chapter in my life,” she says.

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.