These Elegant Self-Portraits are a Masterclass in Minimalist Composition

In her ongoing series Reflections 2, photographer Ziqian Liu shows just how creative you can get when you limit your props and subject matter, and master composition instead. Throughout the series, Liu uses only herself, various plant life, the occasional fruit, and a round mirror to craft images that are at once symbolic and striking.

Reflections 2 works so well precisely because it defies the (often low) expectations that many of us hold when someone marries mirrors and self-portrait photography. From cliche compositions to the lowly “mirror selfie,” there’s not a lot of work out there to recommend the combo. But when you arrive expecting kitsch, it’s that much more arresting to find yourself staring at art.

Using only a few basic elements of portraiture and still life, Liu draws you in by imbuing the whole series with a clear sense of purpose.

“In my work, I want to remind [the] viewer to take time for themselves and pay attention to the details and changes around us,” she told me over email. “Nowadays, our life is getting faster and faster, and the environment around us always very noisy. It is easy to ignore the small details around us and our inner feelings. It is very rare to have this opportunity to be alone. In the space we are most familiar with, our emotions can be fully released.”

Liu describes these portraits as a conversation with her most authentic self—not always an easy conversation, not even always a pleasant one, but an important one if you’re to create images that reflect something about your inner world. Describing the creative process behind the series, she tells me:

Sometimes I get the images in my head first, but more often I improvise. Bringing the imaginary picture into the real world is a very physically demanding process for me. I will first put the general position of the props, and then adjust the position and posture of myself. In order to ensure that the mirror can accurately reflect the expected thing, I have to try many times to find the angles.

Sometimes there is a big difference between the imagination and the actual operation, so I will adjust the original shooting idea temporarily. The whole process is really hard, but it is very satisfying to see the final result of my shooting.

Whatever the process, the result almost always stops you in your tracks, demanding a double take and a closer look:

One of the most interesting insights that Liu shared with me was how she struggles to “[find] the balance between maintaining a stable style and not repeating myself,” a challenge that all creators are intimately are familiar with, especially in the age of social media. This is particularly challenging for Liu since she limits her subject matter so aggressively, and has built an instantly recognizable style as a result.

“My goal is to stand out in a particular area of my work, rather than to touch everything and not master everything,” she explains. “But it is hard to avoid repeating myself in the process of consolidating the representational content, so more thought and action is needed.”

It is, appropriately enough, a process of constant reflection.

To see more of Ms. Liu’s work, visit her website or give her a follow on Instagram. I don’t know about you, but this kind of work—simple, minimal, yet striking in its creativity—is exactly the kind of photography that I’d love to see a lot more of.

Image credits: All photos by Ziqian Liu and used with permission.