EXPANDING ON AN IDEA
There are other photographers using the same visual language, which has emerged in parallel with our increased awareness that human behavior has a direct, usually destructive, impact on the environment, while questioning the medium that they work in.
Recent examples include Richard Misrach’s 2010 series Destroy this Memory, which portrays a deserted post-Katrina New Orleans, and Richard Mosse’s haunting 2013 The Enclave, where vibrant and unnatural tones of Kodak Aerochrome infrared color film are used to intentionally sensationalize conflict in the Congo, absorbing the viewer’s attention while making him feel uncomfortable for watching.
In these instances, the photographers subvert the genre and medium to open a space for the viewer to look at landscapes and photography in a different way. And like Mosse’s work, Wu operates in paradox: providing the viewer with appealing images that depict ugliness, navigating between the extremes of horror and beauty, politics and aesthetics.
“I intentionally make these photographs beautiful… The title of my series is literally: The Beautiful Landscape of Taiwan. But they are actually not beautiful. The photographs give the illusion of beauty,” Wu says.
Taishi (台西, 2009) is a typical example. The photo depicts Formosa Plastics Group’s sixth naphtha cracker complex in Mailiao (麥寮), Yunlin County. Smokestacks are clearly visible against the magenta background of the sky. Our attention is directed to the foreground where a faceless Wu stands beside a sea of reflected dark magenta, black posts punctuating the water as if headstones in a graveyard. Even within a framework of beauty, Wu reminds us that the complex causes severe health problems for the residents close by.
Wu says the manner in which he overexposes his face to eradicate his facial features represents an accumulation and release of energy, its erasure of form a metaphor for the formation and dissolution of the artificially constructed.
“When you press the button, that is the instant when the light destroys the integrity of the photo, transgressing the established norms of a perfectly exposed photograph. So that’s the accumulation process to destroy the institution, the environment or even the culture,” Wu says.
For Wu, every click of the shutter tempers his anger, the image leading to a kind of calm — one that prepares him for the next shot that begins the cycle all over again.
Wu Cheng-chang’s I — Die — Want runs until Nov. 24.