Main image above: from the series Refract, 2021
It’s an impressive backstory for someone who has only just squeaked into their 20s.
Anna Zhang made the Forbes magazine ‘30 Under 30’ list in 2021 for her work as a photographer, designer and creative director. Her work has been featured in titles including Glamour, Vice and Porter.
It is her creative projects at the intersection of art and technology, though, that inspired the Forbes list selectors to include her in the Art and Style category at the age of 19. Zhang, who is studying computing and the arts at Yale University, dreamed up and was creative director of Brightlove, a mobile game that encourages users to be kind and act, rather than spectate.
She is also the founder of Pulse Spikes, a nonprofit organisation run by young people “dedicated to inspiring and empowering the next generation of changemakers”. What began as a blog launched while she was still at school has become a platform showcasing the work of young innovators across the world.
Here, Zhang explains the influences behind her image-making.
From the series Refract, 2021
“This series uses pixel manipulation algorithms and alternative photo-making processes to externalise the ways in which the body is continuously realised, reconfigured, and/or redacted through our engagement with technology.
“There is no perfect image. Images are always contingent, incomplete and in flux. But certain elements make an image compelling, at least for me.
“In many ways my practice is like research. A research paper typically includes an introduction, methods, results, discussion and references – my practice is structured in a similar way. When I conceptualise a project I’m identifying a problem and generating questions, situating myself within an existing conversation and figuring out ways to expand it.
“I try to learn as much as I can about the area of interest. This can include anything from reading sociology papers to participating in online communities to talking to other artists and technologists. I create photographs and other works based on these explorations as a way of processing and synthesizing my findings. I share what I create, and just like with research findings, I recognise that there are limitations to the ideas I present and future directions in which my work can be built upon."
From the series Refract, 2021
“I’m drawn to images that present something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Maybe the image seduces through humour. Maybe something is missing. Maybe there’s a contradiction. I love when images contain an element of surprise, something I don’t understand immediately. They are images that invite you to be with them for a little while. It’s hard to accomplish, especially when we seem to be constantly bombarded with images calling for our attention.
“A challenge that’s always on my mind is trying to find ways to make my work accessible and engaging to a broad audience. I want to find more ways to make people feel included in discussions about technology and its impact on our lives, even if they may not have a technical background.”
“I’m interested in the construction of images that seduce and sell, not only that of commercial photography but also those that we see on social media, from friends, family and strangers.”