Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Living behind the lens

A 50-year-old photographic chronicle of Taiwanese life lessons to all photographers

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Photo of Teng Nan-kuang

PHOTO COURTESY OF TIVAC

There is no shortage of amateur photographers in Taiwan. As cameras have become married to computers their ranks have multiplied. That's why Taiwan International Visual Art Center's exhibition of vintage prints by Teng Nan-kuang (鄧南光) is a must-see; although Teng never earned his living from his photographs, as the owner of a photo supply store and founder of the Taiwan Photographic Society, he has more than secured his place in the nation's photographic history.

For Teng, as with many photo hobbyists today, chronicling life through a camera lens was an obsession. The difference between Teng and those with the same obsession today is the equipment; Teng began his love affair with photography in the early 1930s, when film and cameras were proportionately even more expensive than today.

In the literature for TIVAC's exhibit, Teng's son, Teng Shih kuang (鄧世光) notes that during 40 years of taking photos, his father snapped some 8,000 images -- about half a photo per day. Any amateur photographer today equipped with a digital camera can record exponentially more than that.

Another aspect of the art that concerned Teng far more than it concerns today's photographers was printing his images. While most of the images taken by digital shutterbugs remain on their computer, Teng spent decades perfecting the techniques involved with bringing the images to life on paper.

That effort is all to the benefit of anyone who pays a visit to TIVAC's exhibition; all of the prints on display are Teng's own handiwork, hauled out of boxes by his son more than 30 years after his death. The prints are tinted various degrees of yellow but maintain their elegance (in some cases the aging even enhances the print's elegance). What's more, none of the prints in the exhibition -- all of which are their original small size -- has ever been displayed before. And when you see them, it's easy to understand why.

A couple of prints show an attractive lady playing in a slick marble-bedded stream wearing nothing at all. Given that the photos were taken in 1950s Taiwan, they're quite likely among the only of their type.

Yet far from being risque, the prints expose as much of the women's psychological make-up as skin. This kind of compassion with which Teng looked through his lens is evident in all his prints and invite the spectator to look again and again.

There is also a limited-edition book of the prints on display.

TIVAC is located at 29, Liaoning St, Lane 45, Taipei (台北市遼寧街4529) and is open from 11am to 7pm weekdays and until 5pm on weekends.

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