Hao Zeng’s new black and white portrait series is inspired by modern youth

The photographer talks us through her subtly charged series, documenting the next generation and themes of self-expression and kinship.

21 August 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

Nestled among the high fashion editorial shoots found in Hao Zeng’s portfolio sits an array of artfully poised portraiture. Within these pictures the photographer and director captures her subjects with care and attention. Each person – whether they’re sat alone on the bed or with their partner or friend – is depicted with a high level of intimacy.

Growing up as an only child, Hao would spend much of her time poring through picture books, which is where she first laid eyes on what would then become her craft. “I was always interested in fashion and art, and anything that was photographed,” she tells It’s Nice That. “So photography always felt second nature to me – to be able to imagine how a picture should look.”

Working across both film and photography, Hao’s work has been published in Vogue Greece, and she’s shot the likes of Gigi Hadid and Adriana Lima in a campaign for Maybelline as well as various editorials for Marc Jacobs, to name a few. Hao’s portfolio is mature and technical; yet what really caught our eye was the attentive style of her personal work – and, in particular, her most recent portrait series. Shot entirely in black and white, the series is simple in style; it documents her subjects in the mundane setting of a bedroom, where white linen and stark walls serve as a muted backdrop for her models.


Hao Zeng: Portraiture

Although Hao only took one photography class in college, this hasn’t slowed her progression into the industry. After college, she started interning for American photographer David Armstrong and went on to assist him for quite some time. “He told me kids need role models, so that’s what the series is about; it’s a homage to him.” As such, this project and its subjects represent modern youth and this generation’s desire for self-expression.

Simply put, Hao is inherently inspired by this new generation. They are going against the grain and “not conforming to what the traditional world has told them they should be”. When working on larger shoots, of course she has a team around her to assist her. Yet when it’s a portrait project, it tends to be just the photographer and the subject – “no teams”. Although she hasn’t outlined any particular preference, Hao certainly has a knack for this way of working – especially when it comes down to making her subject feel at ease in front of the camera and capturing those subtle, candid moments. “I just tell them to come as themselves and style however they feel the most themselves in.”

She continues: “I think my favourite is shooting pairs of friends together.” It’s the spontaneous and intuitive process that she’s drawn to, as well as the slight nuances that she notices between the different friendship groups: “They come up with their own ideas and poses prior to the shoots, not because I ask, but because they are excited and their friendship just creates this energy where they are more excited to create something. Also it’s just great to hear them joke around in almost their own language.”

On the topic of her aesthetic and how she hopes the audience will respond to her work, she modestly says: “I think I’d rather the viewer describe it to me.” In lieu of setting out with a predetermined aesthetic, Hao’s work is laid bare for her audience to make their own interpretations. “I think for me it’s just a personal journey of the world and the people I’ve got to meet and who I see having the courage to be themselves,” she says. In this sense, she hopes the viewer will observe her imagery and see something from their own lives reflected in the photo – maybe this will come from a small gesture, an experience or even through a simple act of friendship or love.

GalleryHao Zeng: Portraiture

Share Article

About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and continued to work with us on a freelance basis. From November 2019 she joined the team again, working with us as a Staff Writer on Mondays and Tuesdays until August 2020.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.