Zhang Jingran runs an antique business in Chengdu. In his occupation, an interest in historical curios and religious artifacts is a given. However, even outside of work, Zhang holds an appreciation for classic Chinese literature and Buddhist scriptures. These atypical interests have even carried over into his photographic practices, resulting in an experimental body of work that zigzags between disparate photographic genres: faceless figures, liturgical artifacts, and inexplicable oddities are all hallmarks of Zhang’s visual vernacular. Through his flair for eccentricities and an offbeat sense of humor, Zhang’s photography offers a uniquely different look at contemporary China.
居住在四川成都的张景然（Jingran Zhang）平日里做着古董生意。因为职业关系，会经常与佛珠、古玩打交道，手边也时常摆放古文明和宗教等相关类书籍。这些元素潜移默化地影响着他的另一个身份 —— 摄影师。初次看到他的作品时，你或许会被那种强烈的压迫与神秘感所吸引。他的创作方式行走在各类摄影风格之间，让身边的日常素材达到一种颇具实验性的效果。没有面孔的角色、宗教意味的文物摆设、意想不到的古怪趣味……这些元素共同构成了张景然的创作语言，带观众瞥见他眼里的中国社会，裹挟着几分魔幻与诙谐。
Zhang’s series Linglong Pagoda, shot over the span of three years, focuses on places of worship throughout the country. In one image, rising incense smoke partially obscures a figure covered by a dark velvet cloth. In another, a similar figure—now shrouded by a cut of red fabric—clasps a stack of religious scripture. In yet another, a figure draped in an all-black curtain has his hands together in prayer. These images feel mystical, borderline irreverent even, but Zhang admits there’s no hidden subtext or deeper meaning. He was only concerned with conjuring a sense of mystery. “I grew up in Xinjiang, and I’ve always loved the aesthetics of my hometown’s mix of religions, especially the colors and designs of the region’s traditional garments,” he says. “This series was inspired by the veils worn by Uyghur women, a simple piece of clothing that gives off a sense of mystery.”
The sense of unearthliness is only heightened by his use of flash. “Flash is great because you have full control over the light,” he says. “Pairing that with some clever camera angles often nets unexpected results.”
《玲珑塔（Linglong Pagoda）》是张景然在 2017 至 2020 年间途径多个地方拍摄的作品。照片的取景地往往和宗教有关，四周朦胧的升烟让事物笼罩在超现实的氛围中；画面中的肖像被一块深色的丝绒布遮住全身，他们双手合十或受捧经文，像正在做某种仪式。张景然承认自己是一个向往神秘的人，即便那些蒙住面孔的肖像没有特别的含义，但他还是希望向读者传递的一种神秘的感受，他说：“从小在新疆长大。我一直很喜欢故乡的宗教美学，尤其是传统服装的设计和颜色。早期的维吾尔族女人都会蒙着面纱，简约又神秘的轮廓深深地吸引着我。”
Anonymity is another defining feature of Zhang’s photography; his subjects’ faces are almost never visible. In an older portrait series shot on analog film, he placed fragmented pieces of gems atop the developed images, covering his subjects’ faces before scanning them. In a way, these gem fragments symbolize the fleetingness of youth: although these broken shards still reveal glimpses of the stone’s original beauty, they’re not quite what they used to be. “I’m bored of traditional portraits, frankly,” Zhang says. “Commercial shoots and the beauty filters of today revolt me. I want my photos to be fun, and I don’t want to waste time indulging superficialities.”
Much of Zhang’s work reflects his endless fascination with the visual contrasts of contemporary China: as a country propelled by unrivaled economic and technological advancements, it’s managed to retain many of its traditional ways of life and aesthetics. The push-and-pull between these opposing forces contributes to the strangeness of his work. “The reality I live in is just that surreal,” he says.
张景然认为中国的现状很有意思，社会一方面提速发展经济和科技，另一方面又保留了过去生活的习惯和审美，两者巨大的反差给人留下一种 “魔幻东方” 的感觉。这些有趣的镜头很随机，通常来自他的日常生活，并没有丝毫刻意的意思。他笑着说道：“因为身边的现实本身就是如此魔幻呀。”
Zhang advises viewers to not take his work too seriously, as most of them are shot with personal context in mind. “To me, the art of photography is in finding personal meaning,” he says. “I’m not interested in over explaining or adding a message that isn’t there, as I find that suffocates the viewers’ imagination.”
The deliberate ambiguity and sense of not knowing is precisely the allure of Zhang’s work. It invites viewers to meditate on their personal truths and the notion of reality. In this way, while not his original intent, the surreal happenings shown in his photography do carry deeper meaning—it’s just up to the viewers to decipher what that may be for themselves.