Lin Zhipeng (aka No.223) was 24 when he created North Latitude 23, a blog that made the photographer famous among the web community in China. Comprising pictures of his crew of friends and lovers in varying states of undress, ecstasy and reckless abandon, it offered a veritable portrait of a Chinese youth galvanised by a desire for freedom and a thirst for limitless experimentation. Since then, 223 hasn’t stopped capturing imaginations. He is equally courted by galleries and publishers and adored by the Instagram generation who DM him every day, begging him to be in his pictures. “I do try to keep things tight though,” shares 223. “Fundamentally, my work is about my world – my experiences and my growth.”
223’s photographs have just been bound in a beguiling book by Chinese publisher Same Paper. Available in two different covers, with spreads inside stretching out in three-part folds, Skinny Wave showcases images – or intimate souvenirs – taken during 223’s worldwide travels over the past 15 years. It presents an alternative insight into his universe, containing not the naughty disobedience or “pop seduction” which has enticed audiences for over a decade, but, rather, a subtler sensibility that conveys the intent of a poet. Palms cup fish and flowers, butterflies suck from a puddle of blood, boys paddle in mystical streams. There are still lives, too – a panoply of petals, fruits, strewn socks and sneakers – yet this book is far from still. Dipping in and out of its various folds, one finds an ambient and mysterious force, whispering like a wave.
Here, in his own words, 223 shares the stories behind his book.
“When I started my blog in 2003, the internet was just beginning in China. So, blogging was like having a personal magazine. At the time, I was working in the media as an editor, and the blog aligned perfectly with my vision. I posted work which, I felt, stood out amongst what most contemporary Chinese photographers were doing. I focused more on capturing the urban lives of the new generation, which attracted a lot of attention, including people in the art scene who invited me to participate in festivals. In the early days of the Chinese internet, there was more freedom and less censorship. You could get away with showing nudity, so long as it wasn’t sexually explicit.
“While the body and sexuality have certainly been significant themes in previous publications, my camera captures more than just that. I am always looking to document daily curiosities – the small but sensual details that often go unnoticed – and this is what Skinny Wave honours. It’s a book wrapped in four layers of covers. The outer layers showcase plants and landscapes, while the inner layers enlarge the textures of skin. The book's design is by Han Gao, a graphic designer based in New York. I feel like Han was somehow able to imagine a young person who fell down, got sand stuck in their wounds, but remained determined to venture into the world. The hand-scratched title on the cover reminds me of scars that protrude slightly once healed.
“Travelling – that bundle of sights, music, friends, conversations and memories – has truly nurtured my inner self” – Lin Zhipeng
“There is a lot of water in this book. Islands are some of my favourite places – Madagascar, Tanna in Vanuatu and the Uros islands which float on Lake Titicaca … In many ways, the waves are a representation of my love for the world, cascading and caressing its every corner. To be honest, I am very bad at swimming and only have basic skills. That said, I adore plunging into the sea! The seas you see in the book are from all over the world, while the rivers are from Yunnan, Tibet and Beijing. I am particularly drawn to things in motion. After all, everything undergoes change, and even objects that appear still eventually age and deteriorate. Water, in its flowing state, might represent the most tangible form of change. It is in perpetual flux, and therefore completely unique and captivating when captured in a photograph.
“This book is essentially a road trip book, collecting my various findings since 2009. Whether I’m travelling with my good friends or going solo, I love the serendipitous encounters that only the road can offer. I think travelling is ultimately about embracing the unexpected, and, yes, that can bring both positive and negative experiences. But I really can’t be stuck in the city all the time. I need to go and explore different places in order to stay inspired and fuel my creative passions. Travelling – that bundle of sights, music, friends, conversations and memories – has truly nurtured my inner self. But it’s more than words can tell.”
Skinny Wave by Lin Zhipeng is published by Same Paper and is out now.