Toronto photographer Nelson Huang brings a distinctly editorial perspective to his portrait photography, channeling the sophisticated and straightforward whimsy of photographers like Leslie Zhang, Colin Dodgson, and Cho Gi Seok. Projecting a certain air of vulnerability and ease upon his subjects, Zhang’s fashion and beauty work is swathed in vibrant colours accented by warm tones and muted lighting.
We caught up with the fledgling artist to talk about his work, his perspective on the Toronto arts community, and how COVID has affected his photographic practice.
Describe your photographic aesthetic to us. What do you most love to shoot?
My photographic aesthetic is always changing as I grow as a person. My experiences and upbringing really influence the work that I create. Being born Chinese-Canadian has had strong influences on my perspective of the east and the west. I love shooting with all people in general. It has a different energy each time and that’s what keeps me constantly inspired.
Tell us a bit about your photography kit. What kind of equipment do you use and why?
My photography equipment hasn’t really changed since I graduated from school. I don’t find equipment as important as I did when I first started and discovered that making do with what is available is a better skill to adapt. My kit at the moment consists of my almost 7-year-old Nikon D800, my Laptop, and my new addition, the Mamiya RZ67. There is something about film that is so alluring to me. The texture and colors are something digital can never recreate. I’m still learning film though and it’s definitely an expensive learning curve.
Walk us through how you got started in photography, what has your favourite project been thus far.
I started out in photography really randomly. I had to do a photography project for my high school french class and it just made me fall in love with taking photos. My high school was really supportive of different career paths which really helped me see photography as a career.
My favourite project thus far is hard to say because I tend to attach myself to the experience of taking the photos. The people I work with really make each project special to me, so I can’t say which is my favourite.
Who are some photographers you draw inspiration from?
Lately, a lot of my inspiration comes from the east. Photographers like Leslie Zhang and Cho Gi Seok have such a stunning way of capturing their thoughts and culture. Tim Walker is another photographer I draw inspiration from because he really draws you into his own world.
You’ve shot quite a few fashion and beauty editorials, what would you say is the aesthetic or identity that is most associated with Toronto fashion right now?
I think Toronto is an interesting market to be in because its own identity is still developing. I do think my aesthetic is influenced by Toronto through its diversity; a lot of photographers show that diversity through their work.
What, in your opinion, does the Toronto arts and fashion scene need most in order to become more globally influential?
In my opinion, Toronto needs to take chances. We need to take chances on new artists and new ideas. I feel like this city will only progress and become a global influence if we help develop the ‘next big thing’ instead of always sticking to traditions. It will be interesting to see how Toronto will continue to change and develop.
Who are some of your favourite Toronto designers or brands, and which would you love to shoot most?
I would love to shoot for Cuchara Jewelry or F.Miller Skincare; they are both brands that don’t stick to what traditionally works in Toronto and pushes the envelope further.
How has COVID affected your photographic practice, and how have you adapted to the ‘new normal’?
COVID has done a number on everyone. Shooting has become much harder, but it has made me truly appreciate every moment when I do shoot and the people that I get to work with.
What’s on the horizon for the rest of 2021?
I wish I could say! 2021 thus far has been just as unpredictable as 2020. All I can hope for now is that I can continue doing what makes me happy.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.