Zhang Jingna’s story is so peculiar, if it weren’t true, you’d swear it were fiction. Born in Beijing and raised in Singapore, by age 14, Zhang was a national record holder in competitive shooting, a sport in which she would compete throughout her teens. As an art student at 18, she picked up her first camera just for fun. Two years later, in 2008, she left school and the air rifle behind to practice photography full time. Almost immediately, she began shooting editorials and advertisements for high-profile clients around the world, and two years ago, she relocated to the epicenter of fashion photography, New York City. But, now, barely eight years into a red-hot career, she’s seriously considering leaving fashion photography behind.
“When I started taking pictures,” she says, “photography was a hobby. Then, it was a form of escape when I was having troubles at home and with the air rifle. In the end, photography was a means to freedom. I was still in fashion school when I shot my first editorials and commercial work. The job enquiries were just starting to come in, and the people I worked with were introducing me to one another, to meet with stylists and editors. I realized it was the right time in the market with a possible spot for a newcomer, so I decided to take a chance and left school to go for it. In my first year going pro, I did about 90 shoots, mostly editorials for small magazines. The sheer volume probably put my name out there.
“Half a year after I went pro,” Zhang says, “I landed a major 12-page beauty editorial for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore. Shooting for such a high-end, premium magazine and becoming a regular contributor definitely put my name in front of the right people. Social media wasn’t that big back then, and future clients were definitely reading photo credits in magazines. Around the same time, I landed a campaign for Mercedes-Benz Taiwan with Ogilvy. They found my work online because at that time I was one of the very popular artists on the website DeviantArt. If you searched photography, a handful of top images would be mine. It brought a lot of traffic and exposure to my work. With those two milestones, I cemented a position in shooting luxury lifestyle work commercially and high-fashion beauty work editorially.”
It’s the fashion and beauty work for which Zhang is best known. Her aesthetic is romantic and painterly, featuring doll-like models who have been perfectly coiffed and meticulously styled, yet photographed without the slick veneer of some high-profile fashion work.