Sun, May 05, 2002 - Page 19 News List

A look at `So Many Worlds'

By Vico Lee and Daivd van der Veen  /  STAFF REPORTERS

"So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be," Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote.

So Many Worlds: A Photographic Record of Our Time, an excellent exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, gives an indication of the number of worlds, or rather, ways of looking at the state of the planet in the last half of the past century.

It does so in more than 200 black-and-white images divided into two dozen sections, which also show the power of photojournalism at its best as well as the direction photography has taken over the past 50 years.

The photographs are taken from the Swiss monthly magazine du, which was founded in 1941 and, for those not acquainted with it, can best be seen as being in the same vein as US-based Life. The magazine's focus is clear from the subtitle it carries these days: "Die Zeitschrift der Kultur," or "the magazine of culture," and it puts a great deal of this focus on photography.

While the sections range from geographical (from Go West: USA to Go East: India), temporal (There Is a War On and When the War Was Over) to thematic (from Work to Brief Encounters) in nature, the exhibition tries to look at the social and political world from a cultural point of view.

Apart from the section on The Creative Moment, portraits of artists are displayed among photos in the other sections, such as those of Jean Cocteau in Paris Rising and V.S. Naipul in Go East: India, to show the milieu that contributed to their art.

Any attempt to present an overview of the latter part of the 20th century through the eyes of a single magazine is fraught with danger, but So Many Worlds, with its original approach to presenting outstanding photographs, shows it is not an impossible task.

Art Notes:

What: So Many Worlds: A Photographic Record of Our Time

Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum

When: Until June 30

It must also been seen as an homage to the qualities of not only the photographers -- and the list of contributors to du and the exhibition reads like a Who's Who of photojournalism -- but of the magazine's editors as well, that the images can withstand the test of time.

Seven years ago, Swiss photographer and co-conceiver of So Many Worlds Daniel Schwartz went through all 650 or so issues of du, making photocopies of about 2,000 images.

"During that process, some of the later chapters slowly and naturally began to form themselves," he told the Taipei Times in an e-mail exchange.

"[The] second step was that, together with [Magnum photo agency] photographer Rene Burri, ... I locked myself into an empty factory loft with these photocopies, grouping images, creating and abandoning sequences and chapters until we had the 250-plus of the final edit," said Schwartz, a regular contributor to du whose book The Great Wall of China just has been re-released.

"In between we had visits by du's then editor in chief Dieter Bachmann, throwing in his ideas. The final sequence of the chapters was done by him and me jointly."

So Many Worlds opens with the only color photo in the exhibition -- Werner Bischof's image of a young World War II victim.

"It was a conceptual decision to include only black and white photographs. However, as du published color photographs from its very beginning -- or rather reproductions of paintings -- we wanted at least an indication of that," Schwartz said. "Using the famous, but little-known Werner Bischof image, with the kid wounded by shrapnel and -- as a consequence -- with one glass eye, we wanted to pay homage to Bischof, who, as an early Magnum member, was also du's first and only staff photographer."

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