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

Yang attributes this not only to Lang having to flee his homeland, but also reflecting the Cold War period and martial-law rule. Lang barely escaped trouble in his first year in Taiwan, as the military questioned him for taking photos of Keelung’s harbor and exhibiting them per the city government’s request. The authorities saw Keelung as a strategic site and believed that Lang’s exhibition could reveal sensitive information.

During these years of White Terror, the government greatly restricted creative freedom, and most activities had to fit the bill of promoting Chinese culture and facilitating social cohesion and boosting morale in order to combat communism and reclaim the motherland. Lang cofounded the Chinese Writers’ and Artists’ Association in 1950, and KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) once wrote to Lang, “The arts are a very important spiritual weapon for our people’s fight against the communists and the Russians.”

In a 1967 speech, Lang emphasized the power of art to inspire and mobilize the people, encouraged people to take photographs that reflect positive and healthy ideals and emphasize societal progress and development. Through these images, the government could show the world the advances made in Taiwan in contrast to how China was suffering under communist rule.

Lang actually had little interest in politics, and Liao Hsin-tien (廖新田) writes in the study Lang Ching-shan in Taiwan that he was adept at handling his relationship with the government and saw it more as a means to develop resources and popularize photography in Taiwan. He rarely turned down invitations to serve as guest of honor at countless photography competitions, equipment expos, exhibitions and workshops.

Lang started teaching photography in 1951, and refounded the Photographic Society of China in Taipei in 1953. Later, along with Deng and other Taiwanese photographers, Lang formed the Taipei Photography Salon, which helped popularize the art form and “dictated the direction of Taiwan’s photography from the mid-1950s to the 1960s,” Yang writes. The main idea was using darkroom techniques to create Chinese painting-like images, and this unique style won many international awards and was considered the prestige in Taiwan.

The salon’s great influence relegated other styles to the background, eventually leading to Deng’s departure to found the Photographic Society of Taiwan in 1963 to focus on documentary photography. Younger photographers would later respond with an “anti-salon” movement, putting on a Modern Photography Festival (現代攝影節) in 1966 that pushed the envelope of experimentation.

However, Lang’s work was not limited to the salon as his well-known pieces include that of Taiwan’s cow markets, Aboriginal villages and Double Ten National Day celebrations.

A notable shot taken in Taiwan depicts several Central Cross-Island Highway scenes stitched into a painting-like composition using his trademark collage technique, given to former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) as a gift. Lang’s value continues to grow as the piece was was auctioned off for NT$3 million in Hong Kong in 2017 — the highest price his work had ever fetched.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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