Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Tsai still a cut above the rest

One of the `three swordsman' of Taiwanese photography makes a bold statement with his posthumous exhibition


Folk festivals were one of Chang Tsai's favorite subjects, as in Sir Tiger at the Grand Temple Procession, taken in 1949.


"I am not highly educated. I just use my camera to observe people and things. It doesn't have to appear `artistic,'" was Chang Tsai's (張才) best-known quote. Before his death in 1994 at the age of 79, Chang was known as having the most down-to-earth approach to photography among the "Three Swordsmen of Taiwanese Photography," which also includes Deng Nan-guang (鄧南光) and Lee Ming-diao (李鳴鵰).

The 71 works in Classic Chang Tsai -- the Unreleased Photos, (遺 -- 才未公開攝影作品展) currently on show in Taiwan International Visual Arts Center (台灣國際視覺藝術中心), shows rare originals of the photos Chang took from 1930s to 1950s, which Chang stashed away. Many of them have faded or been damaged in the past decades by floods and other accidents, but they are valuable in providing a glimpse of Chang's passion for photography. The frequent subject matters of traveling Taiwanese opera troupes and temple festivals show the cultural background of his times.

A series of photos of egrets taken in Taipei's Guandu at sunset are the most beautiful works in the exhibition. According to Chang Tsai's son, the two set out from their home before every sunset and rode to the water front with their Leica and several makeshift lenses, which were unsuited for wildlife photography, and spent a good few hours patiently waiting for their subjects.

Chang always captured them in their most serene and confident posture against a background of amazingly geometrical tree branches. These small-format prints have acquired a sense of mystique over time, as flood water and moisture made white marks on the paper that look like passing clouds or reflections on rivers.

Tao Aborigines on Orchid Island are the subjects of another enduring series taken in the 1940s. At a time well before the commercialization of their pristine environment, Tao men and women let Chang record their daily life and take their portraits, sometimes in exchange for just a few Taiwan-made cigarettes. They look diligent yet contented with their lifestyle. A photo of a lone Tao man carrying a small pot of drinking water to his shed implies the Tao's easy-going attitude to life that is worlds away from the current tourism-driven islands.

Chang was one of the first generation of Taiwanese photographers with an academic background. At 18, Chang went to Tokyo to study photo portraiture. Five years later, he opened his photo studio in Taipei. In 1942, Chang and his newly-formed family went to do business in Shanghai. Chang's photgraphy career did not really take off until he returned to Taipei with his first solo exhibition in what is now Zhongshan Hall in Taipei. Since then, Chang has organized exhibitions and published photography journals in Taiwan and exhibited abroad.

His series of portraits of Tao Aborigines near Jade Mountain remains the highest-acclaimed. One of Chang's favorites from the series -- the imperturbable and dignified face of a Tao prince -- is also on show.

Classic Chang Tsai -- the Unreleased Photo Works, runs through Feb. 18 at Taiwan International Visual Arts Center, 29, Ln 45, Liaoning St, Taipei. (台北市遼寧街 45 巷29 號1) .

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