Creator Spotlight: Anna Zhu

Anna Zhu – Photographer / Videographer

Anna Zhu Photography (Panasonic, The Hunger Project, Make Your Mark) |

1. Did you have / how did you overcome fears that you would fail when you started publishing your work?

What is failure? I consider completing a project and putting it somewhere viewable (even if it’s a tiny audience) an absolute win already. We are our own worst enemies, and now with social media we are so obsessed with making everything perfect that publishing something imperfect seems a crime. What’s more important is working hard and COMPLETING something, because our biggest critic is always ourselves.

Also, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not publishing and just showing your work to people you know will give you honest feedback. There are people who will help you grow, be constructive and encouraging, but then there are people who just want to bring everyone down (trolls). We don’t need them in our lives and there’s nothing wrong with filtering them out.

And more specifically to answer your question, my published projects were all for my clients. They have given their approval already, so through their validation my fears were then unfounded.

2. What is one piece of advice you now rely on, but wish you knew before you started the process?

“Calm down, no one is dead.” I can’t say I would’ve preferred to have given this advice earlier on; I’m a big believer in learning through lived experience rather than being told things. This is something I’ve learnt over 10 years of dealing with clients and difficult projects. Everyone starts to panic and you really need to be the rock that holds everything in place, to keep a calm head and take the reins in an efficient and respectful manner is the true mark of leadership.

3. What is the most positive part of having your work in the public eye?

I’ve always seen myself as a craftsman, not an artist. For me, when an audience sees a piece of craft, they’re admiring the workmanship, the creativity, the communication. When an audience sees a piece of art, they’re thinking about the artist, their history, the context, it’s a more complex and thorough examination. I’ve published craft, not art, and the story being told are my clients, not mine, so in a way I’m a very invisible creator, which means I’m not in the public eye personally. That is probably the most positive part! I like that I’m unseen, but my clients’ stories are seen.

4. In what way has having your work in the public eye proved to be a negative?

None so far. I can imagine how it can be though, if a piece of work is insensitive, ill-researched, hastily put together. Always be respectful to your subject matter, ask experts or people within the community their opinions. Test a piece with a varied audience before making it completely public.

5. What advice would you have for someone looking to get started publishing their work?

Hate to quote Nike, but “just do it.” Your life is a journey and there’s no time like now to start it. You’ll be surprised but many people never start that journey of learning about themselves, of discovering what and more important WHY they are excited / sad / happy / fearful / defensive / angry. There are so many people who are reactive in their emotions but don’t take time to examine them. This will probably be your most useful life skill – to UNDERSTAND what makes you tick.

Having said that though, I think baby steps are a good way too. Publish to a small audience. Publish anonymously. Set yourself creative deadlines, be it a piece of work finished every week or every 6 months. Be consistent. Be your own hardest task master. Be prepared for constructive criticism – no one ever learnt by being told they were perfect. And, what is your end goal? Do you want awards? Accolades? Nothing wrong with that, just work on being really good at writing applications.  Do you want to make money from your work? Nothing wrong with that either, but consider splitting how you organise your work up (the side that makes money and the side that’s just for you), because we all need to respond to market forces; but, that doesn’t mean this stops your from being creative. Or do you create because you can’t help yourself, like it drives you and not the other way around? If you’re not ready to share it, then why push yourself to publish in the first place?

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