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2021-05-17 10:36:58  + video 

Zou Shengyu isn’t your average street photographer. She’s a breakout star on Chinese video platform Bilibili, courted by influencers and fashion models.

She’s also still in primary school.

The 6-year-old — known to her fans as Shengsheng — has shot to prominence on Chinese social media in recent months. A vlog series showing her snapping fashionable young people in Shanghai has attracted over 3 million views.

In the videos, Shengsheng typically approaches a well-dressed young woman on the street and delivers her catchphrase: “Hi, miss! Can I take your photo?” She then proceeds to shoot away on her camera, directing her subjects — who often tower over her — with surprising confidence.

Zou Shengyu has become widely popular on Chinese social media in recent months, but she is only vaguely aware of her newfound fame. By Chen Si, Fu Xiaofan and Wang Xuchenchen

Fans have been won over by her precocity, but also the quality of her work. Though she only picked up a camera in 2019, Shengsheng has already developed a signature style. Her photos always have a warm orange tone. She prefers to capture her subjects in a relaxed pose, with broad smiles on their faces.

“Before you look into the viewfinder, you may think, ‘such a small hole!’” said Shengsheng. “But after you do, you’ll find the world inside is so big.”

The architect of Shengsheng’s success has been her father, Zou Yupeng. A commercial photographer by trade, he says his daughter was inspired to follow his passion.

“Shengsheng has seen me playing with cameras a lot since she was little,” said Zou. “As time went by, she gradually showed interest in photography. It’s not a surprise to me.”

Zou is a strict teacher. Even in the vlog videos, he can barely disguise his irritation when the little girl is unable to match his professional standards. According to Zou, his daughter has already used up over 110 rolls of film taking photos.

But the father insists he has no intention of pushing Shengsheng to become a professional photographer. He says he just wants to teach her to be focused and persistent.

“It doesn’t have to be photography,” he said. “It could be painting, or anything else. But once you decide to do something, you should try your best.”

The video channel, which Zou manages, has attracted more than 55,000 subscribers, and is still growing rapidly. Several well-known online influencers and fashion models, including Pan Haowen, have asked to work with Shengsheng.

Zou is frank about wanting to grow Shengsheng’s following on social media. Though some parents worry about exposing children to the public at such a young age, he says his experience as a photographer gives him a different perspective.

“Photography is a very open thing — if you want to be good, you must let people see your work,” he said. “It has nothing to do with wanting overnight fame. I just believe the attention and compliments from strangers will be encouraging for her.”

Shengsheng is only vaguely aware of her newfound fame. Some people now recognize her in the street, which she finds confusing.

“It’s so odd — I don’t know these people, but they know my name,” she said. “I remember one man, he said he’s a fan, and he likes me.”

For now, the girl says she’s enjoying street photography. But when she grows up, she aims to do something completely different.

“I want to open a cat café in the future,” she said. “I can have many, many kitties to play with.”

Editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: Zou Shengyu takes photos in Shanghai, April 2021. Chen Si/Sixth Tone)