“The bird’s-eye view I adopt for my pictures is not a position of power for me—I need distance from the event in order to understand what’s happening there.”

Born 1978, Deyang, Sichuan

Zhou Jinhua’s art fuses the seemingly incompatible worldviews of aerial photography and of traditional Chinese painting. As soon as he got his first camera, he began climbing to bridges and high rooftops to take his pictures. But he has also been deeply influenced by the “equal-angle see-through” (dengjiao toushi) perspective of ancient painters. He recalls one scroll in particular, in which “the trees were at the four corners of a square pond, but each tree pointed in a different direction”. On his own huge canvases, people are seen from a godlike height, but never as a unified mass. Instead they go their own ways, coalescing in twos and threes to enact multiple small dramas on the same stage. Often even their shadows point in different directions. And as in Golden Age 9 (2008), the ground-level view of reality is at odds with the larger truth. As far as the people in the picture are concerned, they’re enjoying a pleasant day at the seaside. But to the viewer, it’s obvious that the golden beach is a filthy bathtub on a rubbish heap—and that the holidaymakers are no larger than the ant in the foreground. Zhou Jinhua does not mock, only observe. “For me the bird’s-eye perspective is not a position of power,” he says. “I need distance to understand what’s going on.”

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