How does a 14-year-old high school freshman, daughter of immigrants, 1st gen. American, born and raised in Westchester Co., NY  grow up to be a photographer, a magazine founder and chief editor?
Jen Hom
#Ham4Zhang #Hom4Ham, an homage to ‘Hamilton’

It may be 2016, but times still are changing (somewhat). Certain issues continue to repeat themselves throughout history and are as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. Like American founding father and current cultural phenomenon Alexander Hamilton, Anna Zhang is making waves — and a name for herself — with her artistic instincts, ambitious attitude, and idealistic outlook on life.

At 14 years old, Anna is the youngest speaker at the April 9, 2016, TEDxNavesink Makers conference on Monmouth University’s campus. Anna’s photography will illustrate her talk, “Conquering My Fear of the Unknown,” which is about stepping outside the comfort zone.

Anna points to her parents when explaining her passion for life and pursuit of varied interests. “My parents have always encouraged me to try new things,” she said. “If I liked it, I’d continue; but if I didn’t, they wouldn’t push me. I tried ballet, skating, and swimming before finally finding a sport I enjoyed: tennis. Musically, I’ve learned the guitar, clarinet, flute, and piano — I was also really interested in the harmonica at one point.” She currently plays flute in Westchester All County Band, as well as both flute and clarinet in concert band at school. The latter group has marched in parades where Bill and Hillary Clinton have been known to attend as fellow residents.

“Also, as a family, we’ve always traveled a lot: new states, new countries, new continents, new people, and new cultures. Traveling a lot as a child has definitely made me more adventurous and willing,” Anna said. An avid traveler today, she continued, “By the time I was ten, I had visited eight countries and experienced so many different cultures. I think traveling at such a young age has definitely had an effect on my constant need to visit new places and try new things.”

“I am most passionate about documenting the stories of people I meet, whether they’re strangers or celebrities,” Anna said, describing her natural gravitation toward photography.

Another inspiration for Anna came from an encounter early on in her photography work. “At one of my first concerts, I was talking to a professional photographer. We talked about equipment, our work, and more. But one thing in particular stood out to me. He said that he lived by this quote, ‘Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.’ That’s a quote that I think about a lot, especially if I feel like giving up.”

Anna acknowledged that her young age can be an obstacle at times. Her first gig was to cover a “16 and over” show, and she couldn’t get into the venue to shoot the bands playing. Adolescent music fans are quite familiar with the pain of being denied entry to see a band live in a show due to age restrictions.

Besides not being allowed to perform a job for legal or liability reasons, perhaps the biggest obstacle Anna faces is from adults. She admitted that when adults find out her age, they can have difficulty trusting her to deliver on their expectations and provide the professional results they seek. But she manages to prove doubters wrong with the quality of her photographs and growing portfolio credentials, which include work for internationally known brands (Uniqlo, Dunkin Donuts, Walgreens) and a recent photoshoot with musician Christina Grimmie (YouTube star, NBC’s “The Voice” finalist).

Plus, Anna has found a supportive team and older colleagues with whom to work who trust her. She is founder and editor-in-chief of Pulse Spikes, a quarterly print and online magazine “for young people, by young people.” The entire magazine staff is under 25 years old. (There’s a chance that you may be reading this right now and think you are officially deemed “old!”)

Feel young(er) again. Be inspired to step out of your comfort zone, and check out some of Anna Zhang’s photography in person. Don’t throw away your shot! Tickets for TEDxNavesink 2016 Makers are on sale here.


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