Meet our second Instagrammer in Residence, third year Computer Science PhD student Chen Zhang...
Our second Instagrammer in Residence is third year Computer Science PhD student Chen Zhang, who captures moments and events in London and beyond beautifully through his Instagram feed (@ichenzzz). Chen chatted to us about his favourite haunts in London and spontaneous approach to photography.
1. What made you decide to study at UCL?
It dates back years ago to when I was in the final year of my undergraduate study and thinking about where to pursue my PhD in the future. As a serious PhD applicant, I absolutely took academic reputation as a priority. Alongside this, I still had a list to shorten, people I might work with, resources I might leverage, restaurants I might go to, galleries I might visit and musicals I might see. Having considered these and many other factors, UCL stood out to me.
2. What are your three favourite things about studying at UCL?
The first thing I’d like to mention is meeting with my supervisors. I am super lucky to have a very supportive supervisor team. I can sometimes meet with them even several times a week. It is these meetings that transform me from Jon Snow who basically knows nothing to Bran Stark who is kind of able to see something.
I would also like to mention the courses and seminars you can audit with your keen interest. I’m not sure if it’s okay to leak the secret that the Gatsby courses and Deepmind DL/RL courses are superb and benefit my own research a lot, given it seems that they almost run out of space in the lecture rooms.
Considering my first two points I might appear to be too academic, which is perhaps true ignoring a set of measure zero. But when I mention Charlotte Street and Store Street, you must realise that I am talking about the fantastic restaurants and cafés there. Friends of mine from other colleges in London often visit me claiming they want to have dinner with me but come suggesting a specific restaurant they’re eager to visit around our Bloomsbury campus, giving away that what they’re most interested in really is the great restaurants around UCL.
3. What is it like living in London?
In one word, varied. You can be very academic and actually read during reading week and even bank holidays. You can also be very social and spend colourful time in the West End. You can appreciate the fine art and science in Tate and South Kensington museums. You can also be very down to the earth and enjoy graffiti in a random street. You cannot do ‘explore and then exploit’, since a lifetime might not be enough in London.
4. What is your most memorable experience at UCL so far?
Haha, that is a private question. May I reserve the right to just keep it in my ROM [Read-Only Memory].
5. What do you love about photography?
Now is the time to cite the iconic quote ‘You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography…blah blah blah…the people you have loved.’ from Ansel Adams again. I don’t think that I can ever take good pictures intentionally. Good scenarios and ideas just occur to me when I am walking with friends on the street, looking around to avoid eye contact on the bus, taking a picnic in the park or even doing research in front of my desk. At the lucky moment, all I need to do is grab my camera and press the shutter.
Rather than just being a recorder, I encode my own interpretations and narrations into the atmosphere made up of light, colour and composition. In this way I am also a creator. People do not have to own a Mont Blanc to be a good writer nor do they have to own a Hasselblad to be a good photographer. All you need is to experience, to extract and to express. Photography is just another language I speak.
6. Best piece of advice for students who just started studying at UCL?
Study hard, play harder. I know it sounds too familiar to people but I don’t think that everybody actually gets it. You do not always have the opportunity to speak with people working at the very forefront of exciting areas everywhere. As for the play harder part, I believe anyone can find their way to becoming an expert.
7. You have a free day to spend at one place in London. Where do you spend it?
Maybe I’ll go to Victoria and sit in the front row of the upper floor on the 390 bus in the morning. If I’m lucky enough, I can have a one day Tour de Oxford Street and take an album of street photos. Otherwise, I would alight at Tottenham Court Road and break the agreement by listening to the masterpiece played by some talented passenger pianist.