Sun, Apr 14, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Master artist in exile

Photography legend Lang Ching-shan’s glory years were in China, but he remained active and influential during the latter half of his life in Taiwan

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A portrait of a young Lang Ching-shan.

Photo courtesy of Long Chin-san Art & Cultural Development Association

April 15 to April 21

Carrying just 400 negatives and missing most of his equipment, Lang Ching-shan (郎靜山) left Shanghai on the eve of the city’s fall to the Chinese Communists in 1949. His destination was Taiwan, where he was invited by the US Information Agency to put on an exhibition. He would not return home again until 1991.

Often considered the father of Chinese photography, Lang was one of China’s first photojournalists and creator in 1928 of what is believed to be China’s earliest surviving nude. His work was exhibited worldwide and his name is often mentioned among history’s greats.

Lang believed in using Western technology to create a distinct Chinese style that reflected its traditional aesthetics and culture, a style he continued after he was forced to relocate to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War.

Although he did not produce much new work in his first few years in Taiwan, his status was solid — in 1951, the United Daily News (聯合報) referred to him as a “master photographer.” Much has been written about Lang’s life and work in China, but he also left his mark in Taiwan, active in the art scene up until his death in 1995.

His first official creation in Taiwan, Boating on Misty River, likely reflects his mood toward his situation — it was one of his trademark photo collages stitched together into a Chinese painting-like image using elements from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

SHOOTING FORMOSA

Lang may be the father of photography in China, but there was already a small but vibrant community of local photographers when he arrived in Taiwan.

Western visitors brought the first cameras to Taiwan shortly after the invention of photography in 1826, and the oldest known photograph taken in Taiwan, of an Aboriginal couple, was taken around 1850. Before the photo was discovered in 1995 by art professor Wang Ya-lun (王亞倫) at the National Library of France, however, the work of Scottish adventurer John Thomson was probably considered Taiwan’s earliest. Thomson spent about 10 years on and off traveling around Asia from 1862, but his interest in Taiwan wasn’t piqued until 1871 when he met James Maxwell, a fellow Scot and the first Presbyterian missionary to preach on the island. Thomson left behind 40 photographs of his travels in today’s Kaohsiung, Tainan and several Aboriginal villages further up the west coast.

The first Taiwanese to learn photography likely acquired their skills through assisting Western missionaries, Chou Wen (周文) writes in the book, Examining National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts’ Collection through the Development of Taiwan’s Photography.

The Japanese brought cameras when they took over Taiwan in 1895, but it was mostly limited to the colonizers’ use for the first decade.

One of the earliest Taiwanese photography pioneers, Deng Nan-guang (鄧南光), developed his passion while studying in Japan in the 1920s. Of course, his family had to be quite wealthy to support his interest. He opened a photography studio after he returned home, and eventually became part of a small but vibrant photography community in the 1940s.

TAIPEI SALON

Yang Hsin-yi (楊心一) writes in the study Lang Ching-shan and Taiwan that Lang’s work went from subtle, elegant and relaxed during his time in China to something more “elusive, mysterious, foreign, almost like it’s of another realm that one can see but not touch.”

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