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Photographer Ning Zhou

Water Charms Photographs

Ning Zhou was born in Nanjing, China, in 1963. His photography career began in the early 1980s, following graduation as he was one of the first in China to major in photography at the university level.

When Ning started shooting photographs as a young man in China, he was earning only $3.19 per month. The problem was that a roll of Kodak color film cost $3. His family did their best to help, but Ning was often forced to live life as a starving artist using his food money to buy film.

Out of necessity, he learned how to economize on film by pre-visualizing his photographs—a skill he eventually honed to a truly remarkable level. Even now, with more than 40 years of experience and the advent of digital photography, Ning relies on this unique capability as the touchstone of his distinct style. Every variable, condition and setting is assessed and assimilated in his mind until he can see them like a camera. Only then does he press the shutter—once.

Water as the source of life is Ning’s constant inspiration. Abstractions reflect on its surface in images he's titled Water Charms. These become visual poems that help us to better understand who we are. It is as if Ning collaborates with nature to capture and compose that perfect Zen moment in the transcendent dance of light and color, shape and shadow, which opens our eyes to the beauty around us while focusing our hearts and minds inwardly.

Ning's classically balanced, symmetrical and meditative work has been exhibited in many shows around the world from China to the United States. Among the most notable, George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece and Ning Zhou collector, hosted a solo exhibition of Water Charms in Athens in 2007. This show generated a great deal of international buzz and a beautiful book.

In her review, art critic P. Petsini, commented that Ning, “combines the visionary nature of Buddhist painting with the Taoist quest for the manifestation of the spirit residing in every form, recording...a single moment in time noticed by someone sensitive enough to see.”

Recognized by his peers as China’s Preeminent Contemporary Art Photographer, Ning is actually even more accomplished. Artist, educator, philanthropist, entrepreneur, gallerist and museum founder—Ning is truly a modern Chinese Renaissance man.

Currently, Ning divides whatever time is left after traveling the world searching for water reflections between Nanjing, China, (where he is president of the Nanjing Institute of Visual Arts) and his home in Laguna Niguel. He is the president of the East-West Culture and Arts Foundation and the founder of the Ning Zhou Museum of Photographic Arts and Ning Zhou Galleries.

“Truly good art photography does not merely reproduce what one sees. It is about expressing feelings and thoughts through the capture of a moment.” —Ning Zhou

Ning prints all of his images himself on highly reflective photographic paper that is then sandwiched between two layers of acrylic sheet, clear in front and opaque behind. His prints are characteristically heavily color saturated which also contributes to their appearing to glow as though backlit.   

Ning Zhou’s art photography is based on his conviction that water—the primary element of which we are made—is truly the source of all life. It follows for him as an artist that the abstractions reflected on its surface are also reflections of our reality as human beings, which provides insights into who we are much like visual poetry. In that sense, his abstract images resonate with layers of meaning that render them as truthful as they are beautiful. They are fascinating to live with as they slowly reveal new and ever-deeper insights and continue to evolve with their viewer.

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