Exposure Pro is a new series looking at the work of Australia's leading professional and artistic photographers.
(Credit: Jamie Reid)
Name: Anna Zhu
Biography: Anna Zhu is an award-winning Sydney-based freelance portrait photographer with a passion for people and storytelling. She found her calling in 2006 during a year-long trip backpacking across China and Mongolia, and has since accumulated a strong portfolio of photo essays.
In 2010 she was fortunate enough to photograph on assignment in Antarctica, mentored by veteran National Geographic photographer Jason Edwards.
Anna specialises in dynamic and candid portraits for corporate bodies, and is fortunate to count non-profit organisations as regular clients.
2009 winner of the World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship to Antarctica; 2009 finalist in the Olive Cotton Photographic Award; 2009 double finalist and semi-finalist in the Doug Moran Contemporary Prize; 2009 high commended in ACMP Projections.
It is not enough to simply take interesting images. Photographs should have a purpose, and should unfold with meaning and feeling. To me, photography is a medium for communication, and potentially powerful social change.
CNET Australia: what inspired you to take up photography?
Anna Zhu: people. I love listening to stories of love and loss, struggle and triumph, of things that were and things that may be. I also love being able to document a slice of somebody's life in a medium that transcends language barriers.
I would like to do more work for not-for-profit organisations, as I'm drawn to those who want to make a positive impact, no matter how small. I hope to photographically document them in a way that will then inspire others to do the same.
What sort of challenges did a cold environment like Antarctica present to your equipment (and to you as a photographer)?
It was a challenge for both! I was lucky enough to receive a fantastic set of winter gear from Columbia (complete with duck down jacket and waterproof snow boots), so I was warm and dry for the most part. But when I did get wet it was so cold my lips literally turned purple and my fingers were frozen into claws. I had to stop shooting then.
I pushed my equipment past the threshold. My Canon 5D Mark II worked well in the cold, but didn't do so well in the wet. On one zodiac trip out the weather was especially bad. It was sleeting and the waves were crashing over us. I tried my best to keep my camera dry but it wasn't made for such rough conditions.
How different was shooting in Antarctica compared to your usual environment?
It's hard to take a bad shot! Every where you look there's amazing compositions. There were many keen amateur photographers on board the expedition (who had bigger lenses than me!), so my challenge was to find shots that were not so obvious.
Your images manage to capture intimate moments with your subjects opening up to the camera. How do you interact with your subjects?
When there's a language barrier, a smile can do a lot. I'm lucky in the sense that I'm small, female and look quite approachable. My physical appearance usually doesn't bring up any hackles, but my big camera sometimes does.
When I can I try to chat to my potential subject first, even if the conversation doesn't end in a photograph. I find it's easier to make your approach first just as a friendly stranger, and second as a photographer.
Is there a tension for you between reportage and taking a pleasing portrait for your client/subject?
There needs to be balance, which can result in a bit of juggling, but I don't think there should be tension. I'm hired for my clients because of my style, and I aim for every shoot to be a portfolio piece. So I'm always photographing in a way that is true to myself.
But at the end of the day, you are running a business and delivering work that meets the brief is very, very important. Once you are paid for a project, it is not entirely yours. So perhaps be a little careful with which projects you accept as well.
What do you hope people will take from your images?
At the very least, I would like my images to bring a small amount of enjoyment to the viewer, to be able to give cause for people to pause for a few seconds in their daily grind. I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, and that comes through in my work as well.
It would be fantastic if I'm able to educate and inspire through my work. By documenting the people and projects that inspire me, I hope to pass on all the positive energy that I've received and hopefully motivate other people to follow suit.
Antarctica is the last true wilderness on Earth, and the trip of a lifetime with National Geographic photographer Jason Edwards. With thanks to World Nomads, National Geographic, Gap Adventures, Pentax and Columbia.
Yah Yah is an ongoing project on my grandfather.My grandparents live down the street from us. They've been in Australia for more than 10 years, but don't speak any English. Their small flat is filled with mismatched drapery, odd bits of furniture and tupperware containers. Dad tries to buy them new things, but they rarely accept. Yah Yah has Alzheimer's. He has trouble remembering and is often moody. Ah Na, grandmother, looks after him with quiet unwavering dedication.