mirror, mirror

Take a little time to reflect with ziqian liu’s striking photos.


Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, and what do you do when you’re not taking photos? My name is Ziqian Liu, I’m an independen­t photograph­er based in Shanghai, China. When I’m not taking pictures, I like to look after the plants in my home, putting them in different vases and placing them all over the room. I also like changing the position of my furniture – I like to always have order and freshness.

How did you get into the photograph­y game? I was very uncertain about my future and quite depressed. So, I travelled with my friend for a long time. During the trip, I bought my first camera and found that taking pictures could release my emotions. When I returned home, I began to take photos of small things around me – gradually I found my own style. Feedback from viewers also gave me a lot of strength and made me more determined to go on shooting.

What were your first images like? They were similar to normal selfies, often with faces exposed and plants used as props. At the beginning, I didn't know anything about shooting, or even editing pictures with my mobile phone.

What kinds of themes are you exploring in these snaps? There are two main themes in my work. The first is the symbiosis between humans and nature. All creatures live in the same world: we breathe the same air, depend on each other, are tolerant of each other and, to some extent, are equal. I try to find a kind of balance and synergy between man and nature, because only in this kind of state can beauty be truly embodied. The second theme is about perspectiv­e. Everything has two sides, so I use the mirror to convey the same thing from different angles, where there’ll be different findings. The mirror also represents the idealised world I wish to live in, and the integratio­n with the outside is a reminder to respect and recognise the imbalance in the real world.

For you, what are the best and hardest parts of working with self-portraitur­e? The best and hardest parts are the same: being alone. When I’m shooting, I’m completely alone. It’s a free time – it gives me the power to freely express through the camera. But when the mirror accidental­ly moves or the position of a prop changes, it takes a lot of time and energy to fix it.

How much planning goes into each setup? The placement of each object is so precise! Sometimes I get images in my head first, but more often I improvise. Bringing a picture I’ve imagined into the real world is a very physically demanding process. First of all, I connect my phone to the camera to control the shooting. Then I get the general position of the props, before adjusting them and my own posture. To ensure the mirror can reflect the right thing, I have to try many different angles. Sometimes there’s a big difference between my imaginatio­n and the actual outcome, so I’ll adjust the original idea. The whole process is really hard – each image can take up to three hours – but it’s very satisfying to see the final result.

Why do you choose not to show your face? I don’t want my face to be the main part of my work – whether beautiful or not, it attracts the attention of the viewer, and it’s easy to ignore the other elements. Plus, the main character can be anyone, and each viewer will have a different idea of the work due to their own experience­s. This allows them to participat­e in the work, which I think can be very interestin­g.

How does where you live influence your style? Traditiona­l Chinese cultures always influence me: one is ‘implicit’, the other is ‘nothing can be accomplish­ed without rules’. These make me pay attention to the aesthetic sense of order and balance in my images, and treat the details with a rigorous attitude.

What makes you happy? When I find something new while I’m shooting, like a sudden inspiratio­n, I’m very happy. In life, when I buy new flowers or clean and tidy my room, it also makes me very happy.

Where can we see more of your stuff? Online at or on Instagram at @ziqianqian.

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