Hold the Mirror up to His Gaze: the Early History of Photography in Taiwan (1869-1949)

2021.03.25 - 08.01
Taipei National Center of Photography and Images
Hongjohn Lin
Exhibiting Artist(s)
Photographer(Photo Studio):
St. Julian Hugh Edwards
John Thomosn
Lai Afong
George Uvedale Price
Endō Photo Studios
Zhudong Photo Studio
Shih Chiang (Erwo Photo Studio)
Lin Cao (Lin Photo Studio)
Chang Chao-Mu (Chang Photo Studio)
Wu Jin-Miao (Jin-Miao Photo Studio)
Lin Shou-Yi (Lin Photo Studio)
Wu Chi-Jhang (Mingliang Photo Studio)
Huang Yu-Jhu (Guanghua Photo Studio)
Long Chin-San
Peng Ruei-Lin (Apollo Photo Studio)
Deng Nan-Guang
Hong Kong-Da
Chang Tsai
Lee Ming-Tiao
Artistic Research:
Chang Chien-Chi
Tsao Liang-Pin
Chen Fei-hao
Gao Jun-Honn
Liang Ting-Yu
Shireen SENO
Chen Chin-pao
Nowhere Island Journal
Ministry of Culture
National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, National Center of Photography and Images
Exhibition Overview

John Thomson, who traveled to and photographed Taiwan, published his travel memoir The Straits of Malacca, Indo-China and China or Ten years Travels, Adventures and Residence Abroad in 1875. He wrote: “I have endeavored to impart to the reader some share in the pleasure which I myself experience in my wanderings; but, at the same time, it has been my care so as to hold the mirror up to the gaze…” This “mirror” here is a metaphor for photography and the “reader” refers to his western readers. In other words, Thomson’s mirror  echoes visual coloniality.  The control of the image and its photographic techniques in the 19th century during the Japanese Occupation period precisely reflects the presentation of "domestication of the others" and "self-idealization" of the image produced in Taiwan. If Thomson’s narrative reveals the traces of colonial desire, the images reflected in his lens are the desire of the photographer. But these images allow for the colonized to gaze back, to more deeply draw connections between the relation of colonialism and control over photographic techniques and culture. This allows for the establishment of multilayered dialogue between the "to gaze", "being gazed” and "to gaze the being gazed".


Hold the Mirror up to His Gaze: the Early History of Photography in Taiwan (1869-1949)  examines the power relations of photographic techniques, colonial experience, and modernity. It explores the context of photography prior to the middle of the 20th century in Taiwan. The exhibition features 600 precious images from the National Center of Photography and Images, also combining nine different artistic research projects, to act as a supplement or something like a footnote to the content. This acts serve as supplements to the exhibited photographs. In terms of display, it is presented in the form of Aby Warburg's Atlas Mnemosyne. Through the juxtaposition of montages, the state of high-density compression of a century’s Taiwanese photography is presented. The highly compressed diachronic structure attempts to emerge the possibility of the "hauntology" of the image. This allows us to reevaluate artistic techniques in terms of their politics, culture, and social history in the global scale. Both on implicit and explicit, a glimpse for the image of Taiwan appears in form of writings of light.