Spring, shot at Discovery Park. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.
Spring, shot at Discovery Park. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.

Jiamin Zhu, a local photographer based in Sammamish, used landscape photography and portraiture to portray the beauty of Washington state across the four seasons. Traveling to Discovery Park, Mt. Rainier, Leavenworth, and Gold Creek Pond near Snoqualmie Pass, Zhu sought to find art in the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. The International Examiner was able to speak with Zhu about her latest project.

International Examiner: Please tell me a bit about yourself—what brought you on your path as a photographer?

Zhu: When I was a kid I liked to draw female figures wearing elaborate Asian or European wardrobes.  A couple years ago I started playing with DSLR cameras and taking pictures of my girl friends.  I really enjoyed portraiture, so I reached out to friends and people around me for more collaboration and learning opportunities.  Very quickly my weekends were occupied with photographing fashion, events, beauty, cosplay, and creative editorials with local models, wardrobe designers, and makeup artists.

Summer, shot at Mount Rainier. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.
Summer, shot at Mount Rainier. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.

IE: What exactly was it about the Stars of the Bicentennial video that inspired you to do a localized photography project in the same vein?

Zhu: In the recent years I’ve enjoyed hiking in the greater Seattle area, and every time being rewarded with breathtaking scenery at the end of the hike I would say ‘ah I wish I could do a photoshoot right here!’;  I always wanted to see if I could capture and convey that moment of magic.  When watching the Stars of the Bicentennial video I was blown away by how the models were interacting with exquisite sites all around Mexico, such as running with majestic creatures, swimming with dolphins, dancing with falcons, or some kind of actions that would open your imagination of the raw world they were placed into.  From my experience, photoshooting in the nature has always been the most challenging because you would deal with unpredictable sunlight and weather conditions.  Often times it would also take a model with courageous spirit to enjoy photoshooting under these uncomfortable and extreme hot/cold environments.  After watching the video I thought to myself wouldn’t it be cool if I could capture photos that would blend both portraiture and landscape to express the magic of some places on earth?  This notion dawned on me and became my obsession last year.

IE: How did you end up collaborating with Alanna?

Zhu: I found great partnership with Alanna as we did several photography projects together in the past.  She was the first model who expressed interest in doing a ‘hiking photoshoot’ together as she was also doing serious hiking trips and solo camping adventures in remote places at the time.  In fact, I look up to Alanna as a strong lady who could survive in the wild for days and it’s probably my best bet to stick with her if I want to increase my survival rate!  She is also beautiful and is a super nice friend who watches out for you.  With all of that said, I could not have asked for a more ideal model candidate to explore the wild nature together.

Autumn, shot at U.S. Hwy 2 to Leavenworth. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.
Autumn, shot at U.S. Hwy 2 to Leavenworth. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.

IE: There was a lot of planning and attention to detail for each of the shoots. Can you briefly describe your thought process and the goals you set for yourself?

Zhu: Yes absolutely. Once we set the theme to be the four seasons, it was a matter of deciding on locations and cohesive elements we would use in the photos.  We decided on two consistent elements the photos must have: 1) Dress color that would match the season 2) Asian robes that would match the dress color and season.  The first element was inspired by the wardrobe seen in Stars of the Bicentennial video, which was usually a simple flowing dress.  The second element was inspired by the Asian robes I obtained from a China trip two years ago.  There was also a third element – originally we wanted to have matching color balloons, but after realizing how much trouble it would be to hike with them, we dropped the idea.  They only appeared once in the spring photo series.  Starting with the summer series, instead of balloons we brought matching fabrics with us that would accentuate Alanna’s dress and color.  The goal was simple, at the minimum for each season, find one location that we could photograph Alanna in just the dress, then find another location that we could photograph Alanna in the dress with the Asian robe.  Meanwhile, the landscape background in each photo must convey the unique seasonal flavors in the Northwest.

IE: It sounds like the shooting process in each of the locations held their own stories. Which season had the most lasting impact on you?

Zhu: I would say the winter series had the most lasting impact on me.  I had never done a portraiture photoshoot in the snow before.  Under normal circumstances, no model would want to photoshoot in the freezing weather.  Not to mention the project would require half a day of snow shoeing out to a remote location and then being photographed in a thin dress in 19 degrees.  That idea would be absurd to most models.  Not to Alanna apparently.  We snow shoed a long way to get to the location for the winter series, and the scenery during the entire walk was the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen.  Nature was at its whitest, and seeing Alanna’s red dress that moment was like a distant dream in my imagination came true.  She was like a red goddess from the frozen world. It was so unreal.

Winter, shot at Gold Creek Pond. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.
Winter, shot at Gold Creek Pond. Photo by Jiamin Zhu.

I.E.: What do you hope people take away from viewing these photos?

Zhu: I would like my viewers to imagine the secret world we traveled to from viewing these photos, perhaps making up secret stories about them as they go.  I hope my viewers can open their imagination and feel the vibrant colors of the seasons with their heart.  I hope my viewers can find beauty and happiness in the landscapes surrounding us from viewing these photos.

IE: Have you had enough time to decide what you’d like to do next?

Zhu: Yes!  Starting this year I am going to spend more time doing photos outdoors, in the recent months I’ve also found more models who are adventurous and want to explore new places with me.  My next set of projects are ‘soul searching’ projects – I hope to hike or travel with a model, using a theme that we are both passionate about, and paint a story with our adventures.

Learn more about the Four Seasons project at: jajasgarden.com/fourseasons

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