The Chinese photographer shares the stories behind a selection of photographs on display in his new Arles exhibition, Colours of Love
Over the past decade, Lin Zhipeng (aka 223) has become an important figure in contemporary Chinese photography. “The work of 223 reveals the heart of counterculture,” explains his gallerist, Luigi Clavareau. “Photographing young people enjoying life and love – passing through moments of melancholy and liberated sexuality – he challenges not only the conservatism imposed by society, but the indifferences of his homeland.” By willing a close-knit community into existence via the very act of depiction, 223 has created a landscape of his own: one of bodies that know both affection and fury, one of alternative behaviour that becomes political in a symbolic way.
Never afraid to get too close, spatially or emotionally, 223’s life is gently interwoven with the candid scenes he depicts. The camera’s “third eye” becomes a kind of catalyst for spontaneous and collaborative games, where flowers, fruits, props and the body interact. Following the arc of his work, you will find the same people reappearing years later. Some have moved elsewhere – to Beijing, Shanghai or abroad – and some have broken up with their lovers. “Time can transform us as quickly as it can strengthen or tarnish our social relationships,” says 223. “This is why I have been shooting my best friends for years. Every time I see them, I take their photograph again. I would like to do this until we die, simply to express the passage of time.”
Such is the melancholic undercurrent in the work of 223, who named himself after the lovelorn cop of Wong Kar-wai’s effervescent 1994 film Chungking Express. Like any silent film, the drama of 223’s photographs is visual and emotional. A selection are on display in Love Songs at Paris’ MEP, for which curator Simon Baker has cherry-picked some of the greatest love stories in photography, and a new solo exhibition has just opened at L’Espace Sinibaldi in Arles, entitled Colours of Love. The latter takes us into a beautiful intimacy that is as full of platonic as romantic affection, and as committed to the mysterious business of living as to the exceptional magic of loving. The photographs feel tender and bodily, bathed in vivid colours that seem to rise out of the frame. After all, 223’s subjects are not passive, but impassioned. They do not seek refuge in fictions, but in the haptic realness of one another. If this is fantasy, then it aspires to intimacy, affinity, care – to fugitive moments of closeness that leave lasting impressions on the heart.
Here, in his own words, 223 shares the memories behind the photographs in Colours of Love.
Justine and Jojo’s Love, 2005
“This photograph was taken at the Parisian hotel Grand Amour, where I shot Asian models for three whole days. I knew Jojo back in China, where we were digital pen pals. Here she is with her girlfriend, Justine. We spontaneously drew a heart in red lipstick, as if to express the bond they shared.”
Green Light, 2010
“This is Harlem, my ex-boyfriend, in a Malaysian hotel room. It was the first time we went on a trip together. I was so obsessed with his body and image that I wanted to take photographs of him all day. I suppose this photograph speaks to that obsession.”
Pumpkin Is a Girl, 2013 (lead image)
“I was photographing gay couples, and reached out to many people through social media. Lots of couples in Chengdu answered, and so I went there and shot for about one week. This is Nangua, who’s been a fan of mine for a long time, resting on her girlfriend’s chest. The red sheets make for a striking visual.”
Jinjing and Liuliu in the Pink Light, 2017
“Jinjing and Liuliu had not been together for so long at that time. Yet they were full of love and passion. We were gathered together in their small Beijing bedroom, talking and drinking and listening to music. When their tongues touched, they seemed to go deep inside one another.”
Metropolitan Skin, 2017
“Fujie, who lives in Hangzhou, came to visit me in Shanghai. I found a bottle of red wine, and I had the idea to pour it into the bathtub. This was the second time I took pictures of Fujie. I remember his body being so soft and still … You might say he was like a foetus, floating in a womb.”
Growing Plants, 2019
“Yan was about to leave Beijing and go back home to Xiamen, so we arranged a date at another friend’s house. She was late and hungover, so I suggested that she should lie down and rest – and she did. The light was good that day, and the flowers had grown.”
Colours of Love by Lin Zhipeng, (in)(between record vol. 45) runs at L’Espace Sinibaldi, Arles until 31 August 2022.