Zhang Xiaogang's haunting series of paintings, based on individual and group family portraits taken during the height of communism, have evolved over the years, focusing increasingly on capturing more candid emotional states. The figures are less composed, caught off-guard, or even asleep, heightening the contrast between the innocence of Zhang's young subjects and the futures that lie before them. Zhang has stated, "I am seeking to create an effect of 'false photographs' - to re-embellish already 'embellished' histories and lives."
It is in these later works that the influence of Gerhard Richter's photography-based paintings seems more pronounced. Zhang visited Germany in 1992, and saw in person for the first time artworks that he had previously only studied in textbooks. In these later works, the figures appear more watery, as if behind a filmy gauze; Zhang additionally paints patches of color over the images, evoking the disintegration of photographs over time. Both effects further heighten the feelings of nostalgia and loss. Zhang has commented that "on the surface the faces in these portraits appear as calm as still water, but underneath there is great emotional turbulence." The turbulence in this case lies far beyond the vagaries of Chinese history, but the more universal experience of knowing the effects history can have on individual destinies.