Photographer, writer and musician
Interview on 28 October at Beetle in a Box, Beixinqiao
KL: Before, when I met you, you were really focused on the band photography but it looks like now you're branching out and doing a lot more street, almost fashion type, photography.
JONY: The girls are my friends and I would like to take photos for some special girls. I think they are special. The girl is a singer in a band.
KL: Which band?
JONY: 八仙饭店 Baxian Chophouse.
KL: So did she ask you to take these portraits or did you offer?
JONY: I asked her.
KL: Do you feel shy when you're taking photos?
JONY: Sometimes. In the beginning I felt shy and the model felt nervous too. But during taking photos we talked with others and then we all felt comfortable.
KL: So it's part of your job as the photographer to make them feel comfortable.
JONY: Yeah, it is very important.
KL: Do you think you're good at it?
JONY: Yes. [laughs] My father bought a camera for me in April this year. And I brought the camera to Beijing. Last year I worked at Old What Bar and there I met Nathan [Borofka previously featured here] and then he told me to take photos of him and Robin [Koob of Remedios the Beauty]. They were the first band I took photos of. I think Nathan helped me a lot. Without him, maybe I wouldn't have taken photos of bands.
KL: So you think that collaboration is important in Beijing?
JONY: Yeah, because in Beijing many people have his or her talent and we can chat with each other and we can grow together.
JONY: This is from my first show in 69 Cafe.
KL: I've seen some of these photos but I didn't know it was the first time you'd done it.
JONY: Before April, I'd never taken photos so I called some girls and some bands and asked, “can I take some photos for you?” to improve myself. And they said yes so I practised my skills. So the photos were all free because I asked them.
KL: So you give the photos to the bands you shoot? Do you think you'll move into taking photos for magazines or other websites?
JONY: I've never done it. I hope I can do that.
KL: Did you build relationships with the bands that you asked?
JONY: We're all friends. These pictures from Mushroom Music Festival, I am not friends with them. I think if we knew each other, their photos could have been better. Because we would have been emotionally connected.
KL: Do you think when you know somebody, you know their personality and you're looking for it in the pictures you shoot?
JONY: Yeah yeah yeah.
KL: Do you still work with Nathan a lot?
JONY: No. I don't know, lately I've become a little busy and I don't have time to take photos for his band now. It's been a long time since Robin's farewell show. I really miss her.
KL: So have you been working with other bands between then and now?
JONY: No because I've been working on this book since July so from July till now I haven't taken any photos.
KL: So working on the book has taken up all of your time?
JONY: Not really, do you know the band The Paramecia? I'm Su's [Zixu苏紫旭] assistant to help
with his work such as taking photos of him, helping with the shows and recording albums. It also takes up much of my time.
KL: He's quite famous, right?
JONY: Maybe. He took part in a TV show, Song of China.
L: Did you meet him through Nathan or did you know him before?
JONY: No. He searched for an assistant on a website and I like his music so I applied.
KL: Are you still going to see a lot of bands?
JONY: No, I have too little time. Last year I saw many bands play.
KL: Do you think your photography will change now that you have less time?
JONY: Yes. I have started a project. The photos are taken by me and my boyfriend. The project’s name is tricky. There is a famous dish in Sichuan, the Chinese name was 夫妻肺片(fu qi fei pian),it literally means Couple Lung Slices. But it was actually made of guts of ox invented by a couple. The “lung slices” has the same pronunciation as “abandoned photos” in Chinese. We used 废（abandoned）to take the place of 肺（lungs）in the name of the dish to name our project. So its names means “the abandoned photos of a couple”. That is how my boyfriend and I came up with this project. We aimed to recycle the photos that are not attractive at first sight and use some method such as cutting, zooming out and combining, in order to find something interesting or revealing something.
KL: What are you trying to say about Chinese life?
JONY: I don't know. Sometimes I still explore.
KL: You're exploring and finding your vision? Do you ever go out looking for something in particular?
JONY: Yeah. When I'm on the subway, always.
KL: Are these places that you go to often or do you really go out exploring to find them?
JONY: No, not often.
KL: So you put some of your band shots in here as well.
JONY: They are all taken with my phone.
KL: Is there a reason you've chosen black and white?
JONY: Because black and white gives people a feeling like restriction and serious. They also make photos simple.
KL: Even from the first time, looking at those first shots of Remedios, you've always taken really beautiful detail shots. Instead of showing the whole scene, you cut into something closer.
JONY: Yeah. I like it. Some people don't like to take some close shots but I think, like a mouth, it can, oh my English is letting me down.
KL: I should be better at Chinese.
JONY: Because sometimes people don't notice these things. Maybe a big picture has surroundings which can give people some feeling but a close shot can give a different feeling. In closer shooting, the details become the main body. You will focus on them. Besides, details give an index to people’s character.
KL: Your detail shots are definitely what stand out in your photography. Particularly with the band shots because people consider the celebrity of bands and the idea of taking unrecognisable photos of them isn't what they're looking for. They always have to display them in the context of their fame.
JONY: Yes, maybe for the celebrity, a recognizable band’s photo is better. I think both the photos are necessary for the band if the photos are nice. However, everybody has his own taste. For example, the first time I took photos for Su, he didn't like them because they were too close. He likes surroundings to create atmosphere .
KL: He likes that better? Su and I have different taste in photography. I guess for him it's a different game, I'm looking for some visual aesthetic and he's looking for ways to sell himself. Do you feel like the work you do for Su is more like commercial photography?
JONY: It is really a job but I like these photos too. I also enjoy it.
KL: Is that start of the reason you started the new project?
JONY: Yes, and I want to search different ways to express myself. Through many things, not just photos. Some poetry. Do you know these things?
KL: Oh you've been making stencils.
JONY: I like to make stamps.
KL: The way that you've cut them out makes the actual stamp quite a beautiful artefact itself. What material are they made from?
JONY: It's like an eraser.
KL: Oh, of course, rubber. Do you feel influenced by people like Andy Warhol?
JONY: I like Andy Warhol. I wrote an article about him. A school assignment.
KL: What do you think of him as an artist. How does he inspire you?
JONY: In the beginning, I knew him because of the Velvet Underground and I liked his pictures. But I didn't know the meaning, I just liked it. But then I read some of his books and... some people say Andy Warhol pictures are useless but I think he started a movement, pop art. I think pop art has his meaning. It has a social relationship with people.
KL: And that's important for you in your art?
JONY: Yes, I also adore a Japanese photographer, 荒木经惟 [Araki].
KL: So his photography is a big influence on you as well?
JONY: Yeah I like his photos. I think he is a person who can chat with people easily in the street. He is an interesting old man. Some people might think he is wild.
KL: Well it's important that art is challenging, right?
JONY: I really like his photos but I don't want to shoot a girl without clothes. Maybe some people like it but I like social things. Because now I am still very young, I am nineteen, so maybe I don't have many of my own ideas. I think maybe I should listen to others and accept others' ideas, I have time to grow up.
KL: So right now you feel more like a student of art rather than an artist?
JONY: I'm not an artist. I am student learning to do things.
KL: Do you ever get to use your work for your university degree?
JONY: No, they don't like this kind of thing. I showed some photos to one of my teachers and she said I take photos for a bar but I take photos for a live house which is different, I think. But she doesn't know that.
KL: As a young woman in China doing this kind of work, do you often come across people who don't approve?
JONY: In the beginning my parents didn't like it but they knew that I liked rock music so we talked and talked and talked. And I also gave the book to my parents. They don't like the girls smoking. My mother said, if that girl was holding a book in their hands rather than a cigarette, it would be great!
KL: You're not from Beijing, are you?
JONY: No, I'm from Zhejiang province.
KL: Do you think if your parents lived in Beijing they would understand your lifestyle more?
JONY: I don't think so because some of my Beijing friends, their parents don't like it too.
KL: Is it just because you are a woman?
JONY: My parents think that a girl is not safe and also they want me to be a woman who works in an office and has a stable job. My mother also thinks that taking photos is dangerous because if you take photos at night you're alone. In my childhood, although I learned to draw traditional Chinese painting and play the piano, my parents still thought that I should study hard to go to an excellent college. Until now, they thought those things, too. Sometimes, my family enters into endless arguments about my future. I am the only child in my family, they put too much of their hopes on me and want me to be the person who they adore , like some posted people in society. I understand them very well but I still want to listen to my heart and build myself. Anyway, I am proud of myself that I have courage to try things..
KL: What do your parents make of your friendships with people like Nathan?
JONY: My mother is very traditional but she understands it. I told them about Nathan and that he is a really great friend who helps me a lot.
KL: They gave you the camera and you started doing this, do you think when they look at the book they trust you more and are proud of you?
JONY: They're proud of me, I think. Although they worry about me sometimes, they support me to do the things I like. My grandfather takes photos too. He is a person who likes culture and arts, he writes down or cuts down some things from what he read. He also knew how to play a Chinese music instrument which called ”Xiao”. However, it broke when my father fought with his sister when they are young. I have a photo I really like. I really adore my grandparents they are really in love with each other. My grandfather only takes photos of my grandma. She has a lot of books and they are full of pictures that tell their story. My grandfather has been taking photos for a long time but he never told me about it. Last summer he gave me a very old camera.
KL: Have you tried to use it?
JONY: It's broken. This is my grandma.
KL: What a great picture. He obviously understand how to frame things.
JONY: My favourite photo. My grandma is young. When they retired they went to some foreign countries to travel. I think they are so in love. They have a romantic life. My grandfather is now 82 or 83 and he still drives a car. My grandparents, after they retired they learned to search for things on the internet. I think they are very fashionable. They are on WeChat. I also gave them the book. They liked it.
KL: Did they think the smoking was bad?
JONY: Of course, but they didn’t mention that.
KL: You told me earlier that you are interested in screenwriting.
JONY: I want to write stories for movies or theatre.
KL: So you study writing and in your spare time do all of these visual things...
JONY: Yeah I think it can help me to grow. I also do music. I think all the art forms are related. I think doing all these things can help to reveal Jony.
KL: Do you want to become expert at these things?
JONY: Yeah, but I'm busy and I'm lazy sometimes. I have too many things to do. At first I was confused because I was working at Old What and also taking photos and also studying for my major, and now I play music shows and became an assistant, too. Finally, I realized that I am a person who enjoys a busy life and I adjusted myself. I can hold onto this. To be honest, to be an expert in one thing is enough.
KL: You're happiest when you're busy?
JONY: Yeah I'm really happy. I think when you are young if you are busy it is good for you. You should learn many things. And finally you will find what you're really good at. I'm still finding out what I'm good at. I'm not sure. Some people say, you're only 19, you've got a long road to walk, you needn't think of too many things, you just need to stay in university and study, but I don't think so. I think, if you stay in university for four years it is useless. You should go out into society to know more things like relationships between people and also to promote some skills to find what you are really good at and really like.
19-year-old Jony 周宁 moved to Beijing from Zhejiang province to study Chinese Language and Literature at China Youth University and began toying with a newly gifted camera. She proved an instinctive and talented lens-woman and has taken photographs for several local and international bands including Su and the Paramecia and Remedios the Beauty. Her artistic curiosity has led her into new creative endeavours and the publishing of her first book. For more information or to get a copy of the book contact her on Weixin: zn_27_v