The three questions I’ve been asked the most over the past few weeks go something like this: What is Major Zhang? (He’s my kid brother and he’s cooler than you and I, simply by virtue of his first name). I thought you were in [insert overseas location] not [insert location of conversation]? (Nope – right here. Currently: Sydney). Are you the girl on the bus stop ads? (Yes indeed! Our Clinique campaign remains surreal).
The fourth, and most important, is: why don’t you post on Shine By Three as often as you used to? I miss the good old days when you would update on the daily. Now hold it right there, sister.
My immediate answer to this question, and on the most real human level I reflexively (and probably defensively) spit out, is you know: life. Shine By Three appeared on the internet when I was sixteen, on an 8:20AM-3:20PM high school schedule, harbouring too many creative juices with nowhere to flow. Fast forward, and all I can think about while sitting in class is how much sleep I’d like to get tonight. Granted, this past week has been a particularly rough one off the back of Stateside jet lag and information overload of being back on the daily class grind. This week is thankfully looking a fair bit better. C’est la vie. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that there are only so many hours in a day, and depriving yourself of (too much) sleep, and time not staring at books or a screen, is not worth it in the long term. In juggling multiple full-time commitments, physical and psychological health, immediate client deadlines, immediate assignment deadlines, being there for family and friends, and staying on top of readings unquestionably hold priority above overzealously embellished commentary on sweeping creative gestures and nebulous visual imaginations.
This space has remained (with the exception of a few wrong turns), and will always remain my personal space for my inspiration and my work. There is no banner advertising. There are no sponsored posts. There is no daily struggle to come up with click-bait headlines of dreadfully riveting life questions like how one might wear leg-warmers in ten completely different ways.
This is not a cash cow. My University tuition comes from my work shooting, styling, writing, and consulting, like any other freelancer. This is my space to be honest and be inspired by the interaction I’m able to generate with every one of you, regardless of your background, geographical location, and to an extent, interests.
With all of this in mind, and allow me this slice of cheese in the grand scheme of our conversation, you can’t force inspiration. And you can’t be inspired or creative all of the time. Our mutual internet friend, A-Spence, alluded to this a few months ago. How many times can you photograph the same subject in the same wardrobe of clothing? How many times can you say an item of clothing is amazing or effortless or perfect or so hot right now or amazing again? How much more is to be said for one’s outfit of the day except that it’s what you put on that morning? Not much.
There comes a tipping point both internally and in the context of an oversaturated and homogenised field (or more accurately, an economy), coupled with seven days a week planned hour to hour from 6AM – 11PM, where you become disillusioned and the ideas stop flowing.
The extent of this cynicism depends wholly on what makes you tick. If it’s any kind of cognitive and professional learning, yoga is probably not going to help you.
Upon reassessment of where you individually stand in this expansive environment, though, it’s fairly evident that one’s lack of inspiration can’t be held entirely responsible. The digital content space has evolved so dramatically as to call into question the inherent characteristic relevance of its initiating platforms. Now, this is not even about the tension between print and digital (that isn’t doing anybody any favours, but that’s another conversation). Rather, that even our most established digital media brands and authorities should evolve at the same speed at which they emerged. When Shine By Three began, smartphones were not as terrifyingly imprisoning in our day to day and blogs were undoubtedly the most immediate means of projecting opinions, news, imagery and profiles into the Universe. As Instagram and Twitter emerged from the shadows of San Francisco, they became the reinforcing tools that made editorial profiles (like bloggers, like celebrities, like magazines) more accessible – gave them a reality and personality, you might say. As these platforms have become
increasingly conducive to external user content (and high quality content as a result), more platforms have sprung up to take their place in sharing the unfiltered, unedited version of life as VOGUE or Lena Dunham or Shine By Three – Snapchat or Periscope, for instance (the latter of which I find a little too close for comfort), and Vine to a point, though that too has been repurposed for the comedic brand extension of YouTubers.
The rise and rise of Instagram ‘stars’ in particular has called into question the content relevance of Ye Olde Blog – at least, for some. What more is there to share of your opinion, your food, your outfit, your humour, your boyfriend, your puppy, your kids, your road rage, if all of the above have already been exhausted on alternate and (now) far more immediate content sharing platforms? Although there is a case to be made for audience and attention span variation between different platforms (that is, those who read Shine By Three may not follow @margaret__zhang, @margaret__zhang, or Margaret Zhang), the more than likely crossover requires a reconfiguration of content. To circumnavigate a time and space where people’s discomfort at self-made individuals whose range of work cannot be categorised drives them to create
new and arbitrary boxes to downplay the variability of what youth and individuals can achieve without the help of “The Establishment” per se, it is even more important to carve out, refine, and clearly communicate a sustainable skill set. Take Emily Ratajkowski’s GQ UK cover that has just surfaced. “Instagram’s It-Girl takes on Hollywood”, the subtitle decrees. Never mind the years Ratajkowski has spent working as a model up to this point, the events of which have pointed her career in the direction of the big screen just as Cameron Diaz or Uma Thurman had. Rather, it’s easier to attribute her success to having a lot of Instagram followers. Whether @emrata or her publicist have an opinion on the matter is a separate question. Whether this instance is even the most illustrative of the point at hand is also unclear. But, I’m sure we can all agree that boiling an individual down to an “Instagirl” is probably not the takeaway most would choose to emanate from their line of work, and something to steer clear of.
To do that for me, this website requires more writing, more imagery, more high quality stories not instantaneous updates.
These things take time.
Thank you always for standing by me.
Self-portraits shot by yours truly