Flowers, Fruits, and Nudes: Inside Lin Zhipeng’s Sensual Photo Book

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Flowers and Fruits
Flowers and FruitsPhotography by Lin Zhipeng, courtesy of the artist

Beijing-based photographer Lin Zhipeng – also known as 223 – speaks to AnOther about documenting Chinese youth culture

“It’s a book about love and life,” says Lin Zhipeng of his newly republished photo book, Flowers and Fruits. Bringing together images from the past 15 years, the book’s simple title belies its compellingly human pages, which document a sprawl of ecstatic, messy, beautiful, and at times lonely moments of the lives of the photographer’s friends.

While Zhipeng is now a profilic photographer, it wasn’t always his ambition in life to become an image-maker. Born in Guangdong, China in 1979, he studied financial English at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, before going on to pursue his first love of writing as an editor at a media agency, where he stayed for several years. All the while though, Zhipeng was taking photos and posting them on his blog, North Latitude 23.

During these years, this blog erupted in popularity. Going by his internet pseudonym ‘No. 223’ – a nickname borrowed from the policeman in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film, Chungking Express – Zhipeng’s images, which comprised spontaneous and often nude photos of his friends, were lapped up by millions of readers. A world away from the images in mainstream Chinese media at the time, North Latitude 23 established Zhipeng as a leading figure in a new wave of photographers emerging out of China, unafraid to reject the country’s conservative traditions.

“I started taking photos of young people in 2004,” says Zhipeng. “I was also very young at that time and had just started documenting my life and the people who I was connecting with. We hung out for fun, went to parties, and camped in the park. We were running and smoking on the street at night. I was living in a group of young people who were creative, and open-minded about love and sex, documenting them and myself, and posting photo diaries on my blog. It was pretty alternative at that time.”

In the years since, Zhipeng’s work has been exhibited around the world and published in several books. Last year, he released Grand Amour, which documents three nights at the Hôtel Grand Amour in Paris, in dreamy, cinematic scenes of sexual frisson and solitary beauty. And this year, his similarly transporting book Fruits and Flowers, first published in 2019, is being released for a second time.

If his Wong Kar-wai-inspired alias weren’t enough of a clue, Zhipeng’s love of cinema is evident in his poetic photographs, which possess some of the romance and longing, searing colour and strong visual aesthetics of the Hong Kong film director’s work of the 1990s. Such a passion for film is felt particularly in Flowers and Fruits, which is full of beauty, melancholy and humour. In its pages, he deftly highlights the latent sexuality of fruit and the ephemeral bloom of flowers – symbols which, to the photographer, have come to represent the years of youth themselves. “Flowers and fruits are always the elements in my works,” he says. “They are beautiful, sexy, colourful, but easily gone, like our life and our young age.” 

Bringing together works from the past decade and a half, the photo book is not merely a beautiful artefact to the photographer, but a personal visual diary of the lives of him and his loved ones. “All of the people in my photos are my friends,” he says. “They are lovely, weird and creative … I like to capture every moment of them.” 

Flowers and Fruits is published by T&M Projects, and is available to buy via Claire de Rouen Books.