Xin Lu is an Auckland based artist who took up photography after a series of major life changes. While Xin admits her discovery of film photography was accidental she continues to use the medium to create her pictures. We talked to Xin about what influences her work and her approach to documenting an environment.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how you got started in photography and and what you like to shoot.
I was born and raised in China. For the first 18 years of my life I lived in Suzhou, an ancient water town most renowned for its classical gardens and historical architectures. I was the only child - the docile, introverted, well behaved girl who does her school work and attended piano lessons. I kept my crave for nature and other’s company in my room, at my desk. After the failure of entering my dream university in China, I went to Scotland and completed my bachelor’s degree in Edinburgh. Being abroad had a tremendous impact on me. The people I met and books I read during that period continue to shape who I am. After getting a degree in philosophy and economics, I spent a few years working as an investment analyst in Beijing. Frustrated with cooperate life, I decided to go back to university two years ago and therefore came to Auckland to pursue a master's degree philosophy.
Thinking back now I remember I did show my interest in images when I was a child. But I was also attracted by words and music. I’ve been shooting digital for the most part of my life as many others, taking selfies, family portraits and travel photos. It had never been an obsession. By chance, I acquired my first film camera (a humble Praktica slr) while travelling with a friend in Europe. I had a digital camera with me and it broke down during the trip. At that same time I was intrigued by the film camera my friend has. Under her help I managed to get my first film camera and went through a roll of color-plus during the trip. I was stunned by the results that came out. My initial interest in images was found again by the accident discovery of film photography.
My interest in film photography only became an obsession until I came to Auckland. I was really lucky to meet some like-minded people through a local film community - Shoot Film Auckland. My journey of photography won’t be so fruitful without meeting those people, with some of whom I shared not only cameras, shooting techniques, photo walks, prints, but also our understanding of photography and life in general.
I like photographing people, nature, the moon, cats, houses, trees and many more. I am all over the place. Everything appear fresh and exciting to me.
You shoot film for the most part. Has it always been that way or have you played with digital mediums too?
Film is the exclusive medium I shoot with now. There is always this temptation to go back to digital – automatic operation, immediate result, and better image quality. Since I started shooting film I've never managed to get any digital shots. I enjoy the slowness, the physicality, the unpredictability, and the result achieved through this invaluable process.
Your photography seems to convey a real sense of ‘place’. How do would you describe the way you approach photographing any given environment.
To me photography is more like footprints or memory than paintings. This subjective feeling of a given moment that reacts on the light sensitive surface is always a personal memory for me. Memory could be vivid, concrete, emotional, and dreamy. I guess in that sense you can call it 'real'. I look for scenes and events that speak to me, and needless to say things that evoke me would possibly touch on some other human fellows. My photographs could never be objective (maybe it's the case with photography in general), there is always sentiments and memories I carry with while photographing. I like make connections with images, words and sound, and this imagination might add to multiple layers to my photography too.
You do a lot of street photography. Talk about the differences in shooting spaces full of people vs environments free of human activities.
I dabble in street photography. I am usually afraid of crowds and strangers. I've always felt being an observer and an outsider. Being a foreigner has certainly turned such feelings legitimate. I like wandering in foreign cities and being immersed in the culture which I have little knowledge of. Witnessing the unfamiliar invigorates my shooting process. Recently I made a trip back to my hometown and did a bit of street photography. I ended up talking to people, feeling and absorbing the emotions without having a chance to photograph. I can't simply smile and flee away like I often do it here. I enjoy the stimulation of street scenes – the unpredictable, the absurd, the elegant, the funny and the brutal. But I am usually overwhelmed, and hence fail to capture the decisive moment most street photographers starve for. For me it is a creative conundrum, an inner battle. When I wander in nature, I am with myself. I enjoy being alone and in control of my camera. After a while this feeling of control constraints me and I shift back to streets.
You alternate between black and white and colour. What compels you to use one or the other?
Usually I have two cameras with me so I can switch between colour and black and white. I always liked old cinema and maybe for this reason I enjoy the poetic, nostalgic feeling of black and white photos. Colour photos reminds me of reality and chaos. Sometimes I prefer to be the director of my drama and compose my own reality in black and white. Other times I take whatever is given in reality including the colour of things. I prioritise in black and white unless I consider colour as an irreplaceable element in the image.
What are some of the different shooting techniques you experiment with?
I know very few shooting techniques. I usually shoot intuitively with the very basic settings. Believe it or not I didn't even know how F stop is correlated with lighting condition after shooting for a year.
Do you have any special tricks for shooting in your style?
Look for light.
Which part of photography do you like best ie. Shooting, editing or something else?
Shooting, developing, and the moment of opening my developing tank.
I don’t like editing photos. I get frustrated if I need to do much editing to achieve my desired result.
What things do you do outside of photography that informs your creativity?
I enjoy art, literature, and cinema. I consider my work as an attempt to recreate of the many great works that I’ve encountered before, in whichever form. For example, Ingmar Bergman's cinema, René Magritte’s paintings of crescent and trees. When I wander in cities I often hear lines from Charles Bukowski.
Tell us about a favourite photo you shot?
I like this photo (pictured below), it was shot near an abandoned swimming pool in Auckland. I like how the unrelated objects and reflections are placed and the different interpretations and feelings I have with this photo.
What’s your dream project?
I'm interested in images and ideas. I like to juxtapose my images with words. I would like to start a project based on a literature/philosophy piece, something I could create images that may impose an opposing and unifying force on it.
What gear are you shooting with and why?
Nikon F3 and Mamiya 6.
I'm not a a tech head. I stick with what I have. Nikon F3 was the second film camera I've ever acquired after I got some light-leaking with my Praktica. F3 has everything I could ask for. I bought my Mamiya 6 recently as I wanted to shoot in square format. I love its portability and image quality.
Find more of Xin's work:
Instagram | @___xin.__