Life as an itinerant photographer comes to M50

Xu Qin
Featuring about 50 black-and-white giclée prints themed around daily life, Zhang Qianli says he wants the exhibition to give viewers a sense of growth over the passage of time.
Xu Qin

It took photographer Zhang Qianli six years to prepare for his first solo show "Not on the Road" at the M50 Art Park. Featuring about 50 black-and-white giclée prints themed around daily life, Zhang says he wants the exhibition to give viewers a sense of growth over the passage of time.

"I've been taking pictures of the tree in front of the window of my Toronto house on snowy nights when all the leaves have fallen every winter for the past six years," said Zhang, 43. "The trunks of the tree grow thicker each year."

A former photojournalist with Hangzhou Daily, Zhang covered social news in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province.

He also worked as editor in chief of, a professional website based in Shanghai focusing on digital photography, which offers services such as camera and accessory reviews, online printing, as well as a monthly digital magazine DPWorld.

Life as an itinerant photographer comes to M50
Courtesy of GP Art Gallery

Zhang Qianli is a travel photographer, filmmaker and book writer. He is based in Shanghai and Toronto.

In 2005, Zhang got a chance to visit National Geographic's headquarters in Washington, DC, after winning a prize in the annual Travel Photography Contest for a street photo taken in Greece titled "The Old Man and the Sea."

"It was life-changing. I met the editorial team of National Geographic Traveler and talked with incredible clients and agents about photography, which was so much more valuable than material rewards," he said.

"It also helped build my confidence and encouraged me to continue learning."

Ready to embrace a new journey, he became a freelance photographer and gained a diverse array of experience on contract jobs at photo agencies such as Getty Images and National Geographic Traveler, as well as camera manufacturers like Sony, Ricoh and Hasselblad.

Beginning in 2015, Zhang created a travel video program "Beyond the Photo" on video-sharing platform Youku, and opened a WeChat account "lefthandplus" to offer online photography classes. He has 3 million followers.

He also published three books on photography: "The Guide for Travel Photographer," "The Guide for Travel Photographer II" and "The Aesthetics of Photographic Composition" – the latest which was released in 2020.

"I prefer to go to countries with rich traditions and cultural heritages, such as Cuba, Mexico and Israel," Zhang said.

"The farthest place I have been is Svalbard Archipelago (Norway) at 78 degrees north latitude, which is mostly uninhabited. The hardest project was in Canada in 2015. We spent two-and-a-half months on the road, from the Great Lakes to the Rockies, and finally ended up sleeping rough by the French-speaking coast in the southeast."

"Along the way we had to face all kinds of difficulties," he added.

"The weather was bad, but we managed to get the right photos plus 15 video episodes done. The biggest gain from that trip was to stay calm and keep an open mind for any changes. That's how we cope with life's ups and downs."

Having spent most of his time as a travel photographer on the road, Zhang's daily work involves a lot of traveling from place to place. Wherever there is a job, he packs up and goes.

Works for "Not on the Road" are those off-the-job moments he spent with others.

"Those are meaningful moments to me. Taking photos of myself, families, our living spaces, where I can be true to life and loyal to myself. It gives me privacy, peace and pleasure," said Zhang, who now lives in Shanghai and Toronto.

Exhibition info

Dates: Through September 18, 1-5pm

Venue: CMYK Art Space

Address: Room 212, Bldg 4, 50 Moganshan Road

Special Reports