Wed, Oct 04, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Illuminating Taiwan’s history

An exhibition at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York explores Taiwan’s political photography 30 years after the lifting of martial law

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter in New York


Yu said the design of the exhibition space was meant to replicate the process of how photographs were selected for publication at news organizations before the advent of digital photography.

“At that time, they had to go inside a darkroom,” she said. “Journalists, after finishing shooting, would then immediately need to rely on their experience to decide which negatives to use. They had to choose directly, they didn’t first make an original print.”

Exhibit-goers with iPhones can experience what it was like to make those kinds of decisions in a darkened space by turning on an option that inverts colors and allows the negatives to be viewed as a photograph.

To keep the displays clean, curators minimized the amount of text accompanying the photos, instead displaying QR codes that can be scanned with a smartphone to reveal captions.

The exhibit explores topics that developed after the lifting of martial law, including movements involving farmers and workers, as well as human rights and environmental protection.

A selection of prints is arranged on exhibition tables designed by Luxury Logico (豪華朗機工), which made the cauldron used in the lighting ceremony of the Taipei Summer Universiade in the summer. The group is also responsible for the installation’s layout.

Among the photographs is one from Liu, exhibit co-curator and former photographer with the Independent Newspaper Group (自立報系), taken on Aug. 26, 1988.

It captures a scene following the memorial service of Chen Cui-yu (陳翠玉), a blacklisted democracy activist. The photograph shows a funeral procession making its way to the Presidential Office to protest the KMT’s policy of blacklisting dissidents.

Another shot from Huang, now the head of the China Times’ center of photography, shows members of the Tao Aboriginal community on Orchid Island (蘭嶼) pushing huge rocks into the sea on June 1, 1995, to stop a nuclear waste ship from entering the harbor. The protest was in response to a delay in moving a nuclear waste storage facility.

And one from Hsu, a former photojournalist for the Independent Evening Post (自立晚報), shows an oath-taking rally held by the DPP on March 18, 1990, at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The group was rallying to “eliminate the old guards and save the country.”

While political photography was an outgrowth of the lifting of martial law in 1987, Yu said the period was also a turning point in the style of photography used to bear witness to what was happening across the nation.

Some photojournalists used coarse-grain, out-of-focus images to convey to viewers a feeling of what it was like to actually be at the scene of a conflict, Yu said. This contrasted with the notion of documentary-like photos that were supposed to be extremely clear and distinct.

“That style, at the time, ushered in another type of aesthetic in photography,” Yu said.

The curators hope that bringing “History’s Shadows and Light” to New York — a city that Yu said attaches great importance to human rights and freedom — can introduce more people to this pivotal part of Taiwan’s history while also highlighting developments at the time in political photography.

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