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Interview with fine art photographer Xinyu Gao

Text by Irina Rusinovich 

Interview with photographer Xinyu Gao

Discover the creative world of visual artist, photographer, and researcher Xinyu Gao as she discusses her innovative approach to fine art photography and experimental image-making. Having garnered recognition in renowned international competitions, exhibitions and festivals, Xinyu shares her unique perspective and experience since graduating from University College London. Join us as we delve into her journey through the lens of artistry and research in the realm of contemporary photography.

How would you describe your overall artistic vision and what drives you to create?

From the sensitivity of senses and aesthetics, I am obsessed with visibility and invisibility, and the possibility beyond. The aesthetic and cultural diversity are my original pursuits throughout my creation.

Inspired by echoes from pictorialism in initial exploration, I constantly pricked from the perception of embodied senses, experience, emotion and memory. As I break the boundaries of categories and dive into fine art and conceptual photography, my work grows in observation, perception and reflection around critical issues. Recently, I have been thinking about the way of seeing in an era of attention and spectacle and keeping changing the point of view from viewfinders to conversations, from scenes to thingness, to any possibility.

Can you talk about any specific artists or photographers who have influenced your work?

It is quite difficult to mention a full list.

I admire pioneers including Eva Watson-Schütze, George H. Seeley, Jane Reece, and Claude Cahun, Sara Moon. Work by Paul Cupido, Constantin Schlachter, Alexander Tkachev, Laura Makabresku and Masao Yamamoto inspired me in a very early stage, especially in atmosphere, emotion and conceptual mind. Moreover, I am deeply attracted by diverse vitality from masterpieces by Alex Prager, Neil Krug, visual artist Stephen Mackey, and other masterpieces beyond the mentioned above.

I am so fortunate to encounter the pure aura of art in my journey. It is lucky to grow up as their audience.

How do you approach the process of creating your photographs, from conceptualization to execution?

From the beginning, instinct is everything, as the aura, the haze, even no consciousness and no method to learn. In most cases, inspiration comes at random moments.

Exposure to talents and masterpieces drives me to touch the world and gradually learn where I am. Based on observation and perception, I attempt to absorb multiple spirits from reading, and artwork without limitations. Meanwhile, the process of academic research at college in anthropology and media study influenced me to develop critical thoughts with a solid background.

My experience in ethnographic research takes me to fields to connect to the real world and the diverse cultural meanings behind it, which take me close to the earth instead of staying with structure. However, these are the only paths that build and support my mind in realistic aspects.

The most essential thing is, to keep the sensitivity, instinct and insight forever, and keep the initial hope and passion, no matter what kind of experiments of methodologies, reality and adventures.

The project „The Night We First Met“ focuses on underground ballroom culture. What drew you to this subject and what is the message you hope to convey through your photographs?

Influenced by my field experience rooted in anthropology spirit, diversity led me to queer communities, where individual representations are the most unique and sparking, in pure love and support from each other.

This project comes from the night when the most beautiful souls of humans and nonhumans meet each other in the first voguing ball open to the public in Beijing, embracing everyone and every difference, without judgment and limitations. The senses of materials in leather and feather, metal and skin reflected under the disco ball bring me to the imagination where subjective creativity grows from nonlinear time and broken spaces.

It is a remarkable honour to create a conceptual series with unseen stories in highlights, celebrating freedom and love as the never-ending light above us. Through these moments, I also hope to reflect on how images serve as anchors for archives and history, as well as the invisibility and appearance of images in the public domain.

The First Night We Met © Xinyu Gao

Your series „Beyond the Borders“ showcases scenes from different corners of the world. How do you capture the diversity and fusion in these images?

 How to make something different in both the aesthetic and conceptual aspects is always my study and thoughts around this cultivate my curating mind that is never satisfied with presentations that already exist. I started my adventure with traces recorded during my journey and found the magical connection and echoes between corners, where the possibility of fusion became visible. Initially, shapes and colours spread and overlap with each other, as images speak for themselves, in the spirit of celebration of diversity. I am touched to keep the image in the state of self-telling, my pursuit as always, and to present aesthetic perception and humanistic spirit.

Your project „EastCoastRide“ explores the perception of memory through images. How do you convey the emotional structures and aesthetic atmosphere of memory in your photographs?

It is a kind of instinct that I can’t help to immerse myself in the perception of embodied senses, experience, emotion and memory. The specific moments inspired me to create the abstract and universal representation, in a tension between every touch and the infinite distance out of imagination. In this way, I try to reflect the alienated texture of perception in contemporary contexts, especially influenced by time and space tension.

The series ‘EastCoastRide’ constructs the landscape based on the shading and shaping of memory. From the most familiar places in sensory perception rooted in daily experience, images reach the geographical and environmental atmosphere, with distant and intimate, obscure and detailed, alienated and mutual touch, to present the perception of memory in emotional structures and aesthetic atmosphere.

East Coast Ride © Xinyu Gao

Could you discuss the inspiration behind your series „Blue Lullabies“ and „Scenic Poem“? How do these projects explore the themes of childhood, emotions, and nature?

During that period, I was obsessed and influenced by pictorialism and willing to present the aesthetic scenes and lands in my mind. Observation and immersion of scenes and landscapes evoke my initial inspiration for stories in a way of visual painting, for pure aesthetics. The picturesque nature of Tokyo Garden and Kew Garden in London bring me to distant and surreal dreams.

In the project ‘Scenic Poem’, the silence of pine trees and rock, and the flowing of water drops present the metaphor of oriental philosophy, in the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

‘Blue Lullabies’ starts from the blurry atmosphere of girlish memory, the gaze and whispers behind the gauze, with shadows in the breeze floating on it. From the senses between visibility and invisibility, images take us back to the pure emotion and innocent touch of summertime memory.

What is your favorite project so far and why?

I think there could never be a clear answer to this. However, thanks to this question, I am encouraged to look back and think about the truth and the core spirit of my work.

For me, every project is my exploration in diverse stages. It is closer to the reception of my journey and traces of growth, from the inner self to the observations, and conversations inspired by our living and creating environment.

Blue Lullabies © Xinyu Gao

What are you woking on at the moment?

 I am currently developing my conception project ‘WindFall’ accumulated for years with a draft shaped during my study in London. I hope to present it in a photo book, also for the potential opportunity of exhibitions.

This project explores the ordinary secrets and secret ordinariness in stills of everyday life and the existence of pieces influenced by how the way of seeing changed in the era of attention and spectacle.

As the viewfinder turns from scenes to thingness, this series could be regarded as a fight against society gradually shaped by accelerationism. Escaping, retreating, seeking and hiding into the details of everyday life, by breaking the speed and concreteness, texture and image, the image seeks to immerse and resist the ever-increasing sense of temporal tension and information implosion through perception, in softness and sharpness.

I am confused about this alternative way between photography and collage, especially because of its unusual and surreal presentation. Enjoying the sharpness and softness on the same surface, it easily falls into to boringness of format. I wish I could keep experimenting and share it with you in the near future.

Follow Xinyu Gao

on Instagram here 

her website 

and LensCulture