China Underground > China Photo Gallery: Images and pictures of China > Interview with Photographer Quentin Shih

Interview with Photographer Quentin Shih

Quentin Shih is a famous Chinese photographer, who is well known for his creative approach, which employs large setups and dramatic lighting to participate in emotional storytelling.

Quentin Shih is a self-taught photographer who began shooting images for local underground musicians and artists in college. He moved to Beijing after college to pursue a career as a professional photographer/artist. From 2000 to 2002, he exhibited his fine art photography works in China and America, and his works have been acquired by American institutions such as the Danforth Museum of Art and the Worcester Art Museum. In recent years, he has created work for a variety of commercial companies and international magazines, including Adidas, Microsoft, Sony, Siemens, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Esquire. His work on commercial campaigns has garnered several significant international advertising and photography awards. Quentin was selected ‘Photographer of the Year’ by Esquire Magazine in 2007. (China). In the years thereafter, he has participated in several groups and solo exhibits in China, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the United States. He is now returning to his origins in fine art photography, pushing its techniques and concepts in his commercial and fashion photography to develop a unique symbiotic relationship.

Quentin Shih’s official website

How and when did your career as a photographer start? Can you tell us about the beginnings of your career? Why did you choose photography as your style of communication? What were the biggest challenges during that period?

I started to learn photography in college in the late 90s, the main purpose at that time was to shoot portraits of my friends who played in local indie rock bands, they needed cool photos and they provided themselves as subjects for my first photography projects – portraits of a friend. Photography, especially shooting films at that time was a technical challenge, I spent lots of time to learn developing B&W films and making prints in the darkroom; it was a darkroom in the college that could be used for free, spending the whole night in that dark room alone with music played on the radio was a good memory.

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In each photograph, a saturated source of light slowly manifests itself © Quentin Shih

What are your main sources of inspiration as an artist?

In my personal memory, I think photography is more like journeys that we make going back every time, being a photographer is just like a ghost who searches for the previous life he cannot return to, hoping that at someplace, in some moment, he can be reunited with the image buried deep in his memory. 

Quentin Shih’s “Familiars” delves into the complicated relationship that each of us has with our memories, as well as the necessity to address traumatic events from our past, which may or may not result in accurate portrayals.

What are your favorite photographic subjects? What is the creative process behind your projects? 

I like shooting people, which could be called “portraits”, but a photo of empty space without people is still a “portrait”, shooting a portrait is just like a ceremony between me and my subjects. And minimal composition with strong color is what I’m looking for in my projects.

“A photographer is like a ghost who searches for the previous life he cannot return to, hoping that at someplace, in some moment, he can be reunited with the image buried deep in his memory” Quentin Shih

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© Quentin Shih

What are the main professional differences between China and the United States? 

I think there’s a long history and tradition of photography in America, as far as I observe, they see photography as a medium to document, they use the camera to document the lives they have experienced. In China, the tradition is that people see photography as a ritual of remembrance, I remember when I opened family albums in my parents’ place, the photos there are all about important memories in life, like studio graduation photos from school, formal portrait standing in front of famous sights, etc, very formal and ceremonial.

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© Quentin Shih

What do you think will be the evolution of photography in the era of social media?

People are beginning to feel that photography is within reach, and there is no need for a learning threshold. Photography as a traditional art form is no longer that serious, and what is a good photo also needs to be redefined.

Is there any photographic project you have created that you are particularly attached to? What makes it special for you?

Now I’m working on a project titled “Blow-ups” when Russia invaded Ukraine, I followed the latest news almost every day, I take screenshots from news photos or videos, then crop the photos and enlarge them using AI, in this project, instead of shooting photos with the camera, I collect photos from internet as my creative materials, my statement is that photos are always reliable, but the truth is not reliable, history plays out every day, and we never really see history, we see only facts.

Quentin Shih creates quiet metaphorical moments in the dark hours using dramatic lighting and careful arrangements

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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih
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© Quentin Shih

Photo courtesy of Quentin Shih

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