Photo books shed light on Hakka life

WINDOW INTO THE PAST::Some photos in the six books show Hakka customs that may be rare today being played out, such as how women faced the riverbank to wash clothes

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Feb 09, 2012 - Page 2

Photos tell stories, especially decades-old images of ordinary people working, playing, celebrating or going about their daily routine. In photos that bring back memories for many, the Hakka Affairs Council yesterday officially released a series of six books bearing hundreds of images of life in Hakka villages dating back as far as 80 years ago, taken by professional Hakka photographers.

“I wanted to learn a skill to make a living and I chose to learn photography, since it was a new technology at the time and I thought it was very cool,” 96-year-old photographer Chang A-hsiang (張阿祥) from Toufen Township (頭份), Miaoli County, told a press conference in Taipei at which the books were launched.

Born in 1916, Chang started his career as an apprentice photographer at the age of 16 before opening his own photo studio during the Japanese colonial period. Since then, his passion for photography has never ceased — he even took pictures during yesterday’s news conference.

“Photography is fun and sometimes challenging,” he said. “For example, it can be quite challenging to take pictures during weddings, because the indoor venues can be dark and there are always a lot of guests wanting you to take their pictures.”

Before the digital age, a photographer had to judge everything perfectly before pressing the shutter and they could not see the photos until they were printed, he said.

Teng Shih-kuang (鄧世光), son of the late photographer Teng Nan-kuang (鄧南光), told how photographs could help pass on stories and culture.

To write captions to accompany pictures that Teng Nan-kuang took, writer Ku Shao-chi (古少騏) showed each of the more than 100 pictures taken in Beipu Township (北埔), Hsinchu County, to the local elders.

“Because she wanted to find out what was going on in each picture, who the people in the pictures were and whether they were still alive, she wrote accurate historical accounts to accompany the pictures,” Teng Shih-kuang said.

He also showed a photo in which a group of women are washing clothes by a river — but instead of sitting on the bank, they are in the water facing the riverbank.

“Some Hakka villages are located in very remote mountains, so when the women washed clothes in the river, they would face the riverbank to keep an eye on possible dangers that may be approaching,” he said.

“Thanks to these photos, we can still see how our ancestors lived,” Teng Shih-kuang added.

Hakka Affairs Council Minister Huang Yu-chen (黃玉振) said he was touched by the photos.

“This is such a great way to keep a record of our past,” Huang said. “I lived and went to school in Toufen, so when I saw the old pictures of Toufen, they really brought back some very sweet memories from my childhood.”