Through the Lens of Xiaozhu Shen: Exploring the Essence of Human Connection

Xiaozhu Shen, a stand out photographer, has had her artwork “LoveBirds” recognized in the FAPA open theme amateur category, selected for, and participated in the KLPA group exhibition in Malaysia, and featured in Top Posters. In the dynamic world of visual storytelling, she has embarked on an extraordinary journey, gaining recognition through an impressive array of achievements. Her video “The Borrowers” has been selected for the Pimcomedy Fashion Short Film Festival, and the ISFF stands for short film festival Short Film Festival. Xiaozhu has not only demonstrated a profound understanding of visual arts but has also delved into photography. Her artwork “I’m Not Sure” was selected for and participated in the exhibition “A State of Unconsciousness,” organized by the Arles International Photography Festival and Profifoto. To visit her work, click here.

Q: How would you define your creative or photographic style?

Xiaozhu: Someone once evaluated my work, describing it as “dark but lovely” in terms of visual appeal. This could be part of my style.

What I value most is the expression behind the camera. Considering photography as a medium, it possesses a significant documentary aspect. This means the spatial manipulation within this medium is quite limited. I tend to use this medium to convey what I’ve observed in societal values. I place a strong emphasis on the psychological, sociological, or philosophical aspects of photography.

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(“I’m Not Sure”)

Q: Your artwork “I’m Not Sure” has achieved notable recognition. It was selected for participation in the “A State of Consciousness” exhibition at the Arles International Photography Festival and Profifoto, as well as inclusion in the online exhibitions “Perception” hosted by Florence Contemporary Gallery and another organized by Blackbox Gallery. Could you share insights into these experiences?

Xiaozhu: This is a series primarily comprising digital photos with a significant presence of 3D models. I extensively employed Photoshop throughout the creative process.

In terms of content, my artwork delves into uncertainties—those ranging from individual consciousness to the vastness of the universe. It serves as an exploration of things I am unsure about in the world, or a collective inquiry into what others might be uncertain about. Consisting of eight pieces, each represents the uncertainty of memory, consciousness, identity, retell, record, and human roles.

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(“I’m Not Sure”)

The series is closely aligned with my philosophical approach to photography. Take the “uncertainty of retell” as an example; there is a recurring uncertainty in retelling as it is shaped by personal memories, and everyone perceives things differently. In such circumstances, how do you ensure consistency in retelling? If you cannot maintain consistency, how do you attribute meaning to history? I see this as a philosophical question where many issues have no definitive answers. So, to each human being, it’s about finding one’s own truth.

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(“I’m Not Sure”)

Q: In 2023, you garnered many awards with “Lovebirds” receiving recognition from FAPA. Could you share more about this particular piece?

Xiaozhu: It’s a long-term documentary and fine art project with a focus on the relationship between myself and my ex-partner. The project explores the dynamics of our relationship during the initial three to four weeks after confirming our connection, coinciding with the COVID-19 lockdown in China. As he was in London, we experienced a 325-day period of an online long-distance relationship.

Within this intimate connection, there are two dimensions – one depicting our actual interactions and the other shaped by my imagination and portrayal of him. Despite what happened in my brain, it authentically sustains a real connection. The project explores the intricate blend and overlap between the virtual and the real. I want to discuss intimacy and love by throwing out the question of whether our conversations revolve around subjective or objective experiences and to what extent these elements intertwine.

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Q: I’ve noticed that portraits make up a significant portion of your work. Is this a subject you tend to focus on more?

Xiaozhu: I believe that human beings are greater than everything. While each person may be smaller than everything, the collective entity of humanity surpasses all. I feel that everything revolves around human beings.

Human beings come first, and then there are systems, concepts, etc. The creation of systems and institutions stems from the imagination of a collective group.

What I want to illustrate in my art is, first, people are crucial. Secondly, humans serve as excellent mediums of expression. They are the most straightforward entities; you don’t need to dissect or overinterpret.

Perhaps you may not fully comprehend, but at the very least, when you see the picture, you share the same emotions with me.

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(Xiaozhu Shen’s Street Photography)

Q: Anything else people should know? 

Xiaozhu: There’s another art piece, “Wasteland,” previously featured in Mob Journal, which I’ll be showcasing at the Rotterdam Photography Festival in February 2024.

This is an extension of the “uncertainty of unconsciousness” from the “I’m Not Sure” series. How can I portray myself when I cannot access my core? This is a more personal still photography piece that reveals the outer world through the lens of the inner world. Because if I cannot get access to my core consciousness, then let me visualize what I perceive. The visualization results in an outer world. When I look at each piece, I then reflect back upon the inner world. This approach brings me closer to the essence of art. Visualization has the power to diminish many illogical aspects. This is where its charm lies.

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