Where’s Ziboy?

Ziboy, aka Wen Ling, aka 基本信息, is a photo blogger in Beijing who posts “street photography” from that city. He hasn’t updated since June 9, when he posted a series from what appears to be the gatherings around Tiananmen Square on the 15th anniversary of that dark event of June 1989.

At a casual glance, Ziboy’s photos might look like simple snapshots, and in a sense they are. He could certainly be said to engage the “snapshot aesthetic,” in which the image is rendered bluntly and purely as documentary without “conscious artistry” (think Nan Goldin, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, etc.). Without conscious artistry, the success of such images usually depends on the subject, and how it is “captured.”

Goldin succeeded by taking us voyeuristically into her world of booze and drugs and urban haze. Frank showed us his gritty back-door view of America in the 1940s. In these and other cases it is the unposed and unpoised nature of the subjects, and their straightforward, unembellished representation, that allows the work to transcend the mundane.

I’m not ready to fully compare Ziboy with those masters, but there is undoubtedly something special about his work. He shows us the everyday world of a late-20s Bejingite — a world we might otherwise barely imagine. Yes, the exotic nature of the Chinese capital is a big part of the allure of his work. Would we be as compelled to look if he were transplanted to New Jersey or Perth or Toronto? Probably not.

But that isn’t a strike against him. Revealing partially hidden worlds is a big part of the street photographer’s mandate.

However, one of the things that makes Ziboy’s images so special is his way of presenting images in pairs (and sometimes trios). Two images, photographed within seconds of each other, may at first seem redundant — as if he were unwilling to edit. However, as we see more and more such pairs a strange thing happens. We find ourselves at an odd intersection of still photography and cinema.

Whereas one of the defining characteristics of photography is its way of freezing a moment in time, and one of the defining characteristics of cinema is the capturing of a sequence of time, Ziboy presents the first and last frame of a brief sequence, which causes our imaginations to fill in the middle.

As a result, we get the frozen, contemplative still image of photography, and the motion and sequence of cinema. It’s a brilliant mix that he treats with a light touch.

So where is he? His message board has been active, but all of the messages are locked. A Google news search on Ziboy comes up empty. Is he merely on hiatus? Taking a break? Fell in love?

Where’s Ziboy?

Update: As of July 1, Ziboy is posting again…

7 thoughts on “Where’s Ziboy?

  1. I can tell you’ve been following Ziboy for a good while. I think alot of people have.

  2. I haven’t been able to shut up about Wen’s photographs since he first started posting pictures on the web. I’ve even collaborated with him on a painting. He’s as generous as he is talented.

    When you asked about Wen, I was about to leave a reassuring comment, but I see he’s since posted again. I say reassuring because, although courageous in his approach to street photography, Wen also strikes me as very intelligent, connected and cautious. No doubt his former employment as a ‘legitimate media’ photojournalist has also earned him the right to freely take/publish photographs others might have to justify.

    He’s enrolled in a full-time arts program recently and quit his job as a photojournalist. That’s probably the main reason why he’s been posting less often.

  3. I see. Thanks for the info. In fact, Rachel, it was something you said about him over a year ago that got me checking his blog.

    Alan, he doesn’t have Tiananmen Square *era* photos, he has photos from last month, taken (I assume) on the anniversary.

  4. My mistake – now makes much more sense with a much greater sense of his risk. Trying to sift late 1980’s style references from Chinese fashion was not working for me and now I know why.

  5. There’s nothing that special about Ziboy’s photos if you’ve actually lived in Beijing, so on that point, you’re right.

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