fashion

How Australia's hottest photographer is shaking up the fashion industry

Published 29th December 2017
Credit: Courtesy Margaret Zhang
How Australia's hottest photographer is shaking up the fashion industry
Written by Zahra Jamshed, CNN
Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel are just some of the big names on Margaret Zhang's client list. The Sydney native, who has photographed supermodels such as Karlie Kloss, is fast becoming Australia's go-to fashion photographer.
But with an burgeoning modeling portfolio of her own (she has been photographed by Peter Lindbergh, who is credited with "inventing" the supermodel), Zhang is as well known for her work in front of the camera as well as behind it. At just 24 years old, she is also a writer, director and fashion consultant.
Karlie Kloss, photographed by Margaret Zhang.
Karlie Kloss, photographed by Margaret Zhang. Credit: Margaret Zhang
"Balancing it out means a lot of e-mails, a lot of admin, and very little sleep," she told CNN at the Fashion Asia conference in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Face of a changing industry

Zhang's call to fame came as a teen when, in 2009, her website -- which she used to share her photography and fashion musings -- experienced a surge in new international readers.
Like many bloggers at the time, she appeared to benefit from an explosion in demand for individual fashion blogs.
Earlier this year, Zhang featured on the cover of Elle Australia. This image was shot entirely on an iPhone, by photographer Georges Antoni.
Earlier this year, Zhang featured on the cover of Elle Australia. This image was shot entirely on an iPhone, by photographer Georges Antoni. Credit: Georges Antoni/ELLE Magazine
"I started my career in reverse to most other photographers -- I was able to work on commercial projects early on before then pursuing more personal editorial."
Although it was her work with traditional film cameras that first got her noticed, she relies on an iPhone to share images with her 911K Instagram followers.
"There will always be something beautiful about traditional cameras, but the fashion industry is embracing new technologies," she said. "I don't think phone photography will ever take over, but there are new apps and new technologies that are forcing camera companies to innovate too."
Jessica Gomes, photographed by Margaret Zhang.
Jessica Gomes, photographed by Margaret Zhang. Credit: Margaret Zhang
"These two strands can peacefully co-exist because they serve very different purposes," she added. "You'll often see different types of photography on my Instagram, for example, than what you'll see on my website."

An age of influence

Despite her prominent online presence, social media is a topic Zhang approaches with a certain trepidation.
"This industry makes us feel like if we clock out for just one second, we're going to miss out on something. But the reality is (that) our generation is actually missing out on so much because we're trained to document everything," she said.
"I can't say I've perfected this balance myself, but I'll go quiet at times because some things are better kept quiet. It's important to take a few weeks to disconnect."  
Her cautious approach to social media is reflected in her refusing paid partnerships on any of her online platforms -- a brave move, given that an account with a large following and strong engagement can generate lucrative sums by partnering with brands to create sponsored content.
A still from "There's No Space Left in C# Minor," Zhang's directorial debut film.
A still from "There's No Space Left in C# Minor," Zhang's directorial debut film. Credit: Margaret Zhang
"Your influence does not always go hand in hand with commercial gain," she said. "It's not my career to be an 'Instagrammer' -- those are just platforms I use to share my work with my audience.
"I've worked hard to build what these visuals mean to me and I can't break all of that just for a check."

A global outlook

The Sydney native now splits her time between New York and Shanghai. It's a relocation that made sense, logistically -- "I was spending up to 24 hours traveling to events around the world from Australia" -- but has also helped her establish a more international career. She has since featured on more worldwide publications, including Nylon Singapore and two Vogue China covers.
An image from Zhang's book, "In the Youth of Our Fury: A Volume of Photo Essays."
An image from Zhang's book, "In the Youth of Our Fury: A Volume of Photo Essays." Credit: Margaret Zhang
Her approach reflects, or perhaps anticipates, changes in the fashion industry, with markets like Shanghai, challenging the dominance of old epicenters like London and Paris.
"There will always be something special about those cities, but the barriers to entering the fashion industry are (lower) than they were in the past," she said. "We should keep our eyes on spaces with concentrated youth and creativity -- in another few years, cities in China, like Chengdu, could become huge cultural centers."

Ties to China

With both of her parents hailing from China, Zhang also feels a personal connection to the country.
"Children of immigrants are an interesting group of people because you can feel like you're in a no man's land -- you carry your family's ethnic values," she said. "But also identify with the place that you were raised."
Zhang, who identifies as Chinese-Australian, has spoken openly about how her ethnicity forced her to confront identity issues and racism in the past. It's a matter that still concerns her now, and she is vocal about it today.
"It's not my career to be an 'Instagrammer' -- those are just platforms I use to share my work with my audience," says Zhang, who has almost 1 million followers on Instagram.
"It's not my career to be an 'Instagrammer' -- those are just platforms I use to share my work with my audience," says Zhang, who has almost 1 million followers on Instagram. Credit: Courtesy Margaret Zhang
"Any racism I've experienced has been born of ignorance rather than hatred," she explained. "The fashion industry is quite advanced in regards to diversity, so it would be insensitive to discredit the movements made by the champions in this industry.
"But there are many shortcomings, and I think 2017 has been an indicator that we are not as progressed as we thought we were."