Zihao Xu ’18 spent much of the winter break on the streets of his hometown, Chengdu, China, camera in his hand, searching for what he calls “the decisive moment,” that is, a moment that nearly begs to be preserved. Over the course of three weeks, he captured hundreds of them: a group of old friends quietly huddled around a small table in a smoky room, not seeming to be speaking but communicating nonetheless; a shirtless man in a cowboy hat riding his bike along a winding road; a teenager wearing a sweatshirt that read: “I Need Money.” Xu named these moments – respectively – Conference Room, Pedal Driven and Contemporary Values.
They are among the 29 photos Xu included in an exhibit of his work titled Through the Glass at the W. Carroll Coyne Center for the Performing Arts. The communications major initially conceived of the show as a virtual tour through Chengdu, a city of approximately 10 million people that has become a vibrant global hub blending history and modernity. However, as he worked on the project, it took on a new meaning. His images evolved into a story about life, space, time and how people relate to one another.
“I enjoy the sense of making photos that capture a candid moment,” he said. “I capture people in their natural environments because I want to preserve a moment in time.”
As a student on the Heights, Xu studied photography with David Moore and Dan Roche. Both stressed that pictures are a compact yet meaningful way to tell a story. That was particularly appealing to Xu, who arrived in the United States in 2014 speaking little English and who wanted another way to connect to other members of the Le Moyne community. Moore urged Xu to share photos of his home that reflect the distinct way he sees the world. Roche taught him that a collection of photos can build a narrative.
“Zihao is an especially talented photographer, not only in being able to create powerful individual images, but even more impressively in being able to create a sizable body of work that has the cohesion and depth needed for an exhibition,” Roche said. “Such an ambitious undertaking requires extraordinary energy, patience, and vision – all qualities Zihao has in abundance.”
Xu draws inspiration for his work from photographers Alex Webb and Fan Ho, and admires their ability to layer their work, fill their frames and find the light in each of their shots. He is also enjoying finding his own style, though, and capturing moments that resonate emotionally with viewers. While Xu does not expect that photography will be part of his professional life, he does not imagine he will ever stop taking photos. Before his show at Le Moyne, his work was exhibited several times in China. He is in the midst of planning another show in New York City.
“I hope people who see my work are inspired to get out there and find and share their own stories,” he said.
Communications at Le Moyne,