“It’s all about portraying and celebrating the little romances in our daily life,” Shanghai-based photographer Leslie Zhang tells us of his approach to image-making. “At first I tried painting as a form of expression. I found photography was a much more direct approach.”
Creating a body of work which spans fashion, stylised documentary and portraiture photography, Leslie’s work is deliciously drenched in saturated colour and whips up an emotive atmosphere of nostalgia for his native country, China.
“In the beginning, my work was really about what was contemporary, as I was given a lot of opportunities to work in fashion,” Leslie muses. “More and more so I’ve realised the things I have the deepest emotional connection to and find most beautiful are the sentiments from my memories of growing up in China. I now try to recreate these ambiences and moods in the images I create.”
First published in Nylon China Leslie’s series Little Flexes focuses on a group of teenage gymnasts training in China. “I have known their coach for years,” Leslie explains. “I photographed them for the first time three or four years ago when they were just children and now they are teenagers. This makes it a very sentimental series for me. It’s a beautiful glimpse of China. Gymnastics as a sports culture has a distinct mark in my memory, as in many others who grew up at the same time in China.”
The series captures — with a striking use of colour and composition — the young gymnasts as they train, “I only asked them to do things they would normally do in training.” He explains. “I like interacting with the people I shoot and have them come up with poses or expressions that we both find beautiful for the shots.” It’s this sense of ease and natural collaboration in her photography process that lends itself to the series’ ability to, as Leslie perfectly puts it, “invoke emotions in the beholders [or his images]”.
What do you think is essential to good photography, we ask? “It has to be visually beautiful.” Leslie enthuses, immediately. “The subjects in the photographs need to be shot beautifully — photographers are essentially showing the world how they see these subjects.”
“All my works in their core are an essential tool for me to express what I think and how I feel at a certain time.” Leslie continues. It’s certainly a way of looking at the world It’s Nice That are keen to subscribe to.