Stories of Our Scenery

2021.08.26 - 2022.01.02
Taipei National Center of Photography and Images
Curator(s)
LEE Hsu-Pin
Exhibiting Artist(s)
LEE Hsu-Pin
HSU Cheng-Tang
YANG Shun-Fa
LIANG Ting-Yu
LEE Li-Chung
Supervisor
Ministry of Culture
Organizer
National Taiwan Museum of Arts, National Center of Photography and Images
Exhibition Overview

Taiwan is surrounded by the sea on all sides, with mountains comprising 70 percent of the island’s total area. Colonizers from different regimes ruled Taiwan for over a century as they vied to control the island’s resources of mountains and seas. The interpretation of images was never the right of the island’s inhabitants. When John Thomson followed Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell ashore at Takao Harbor in early April 1871, he photographed his impressions of the “Isla Formosa” in one short week. This is a journey of the West looking at the East; from then on, the island’s mountains, forests, and seas no longer belonged to the island’s people. For various interests and reasons of control, the colonists who arrived with the Kuroshio Current began restricting access to mountains and the seas.

Along with the landscape imagery and composite photography that arrived with Chinese culture after the Pacific War, local photographers inheriting the Japanese style of landscape portraiture pieced together an image of the island from various aspects through the vocabulary of others. The rise of photojournalism following a burgeoning Taiwanese consciousness around the lifting of the martial law in the 1970s, saw photographers more intent than ever to seek out scenic vistas among the island’s mountains and seas. The emergence of “Taiwanology'' in the 1990s, along with a newly returned group of students who studied photography abroad, gave rise to new ideas on methods of interpretation and narration through images. Trends in topographic photography in the new millennium provided landscape photography in Taiwan with a new direction. Photographers use their own two feet to determine their position from which to read the story within a landscape. Through a series of interconnected decisions such as choosing a focal point within the frame of the viewfinder, and the moment to press the shutter, they captured, using mechanical and optical technology, moments that were enduring and everlasting, yet unique at every turn.

In developing the thematic context of this exhibition, each artist has taken Taiwan’s geographical and humanistic phenomenon as a main axis as they undertake long-term field observation and practice photography. Yang Shun-Fa extends his Taiwan To Go series with Ocean Theater: The photographer points his camera lens toward the expansive intertidal zone; a dialectical relationship among a familiar yet strange ocean, the sandbar, and the islanders is played out within the image. Hsu Cheng-Tang has walked the length of Zhuoshui River over the years, photographing its upstream, midstream, downstream, and the estuary. In the Zhuoshui River Project, he carries his camera on a trek along the Sakuma Pass, Wujie Tribal territory, Jiji Weir, to the estuary near his hometown of Taixi Village. The poet of images chants a song of unbearable anxieties, whilethe ostensibly romantic images are branded with the reporter’s two-lined poem. In the tale of the island’s scenery, Lee Hsu-Pin follows the migration trail of the Bunun tribe from two thousand years ago, or the footsteps of German naturalist Karl Theodor Stöpel and the five Bunun natives at Christmas in 1899, from the intertidal zone up the Zhuoshui River, the Chenyoulan River, and the Tongpurui River, then scaling the main peak of Mt. Jade. For his work The Scenery Enroute: Recurring Returns, Lee Hsu-Pin carries a large-format film camera that Stöpel was unable to take to the summit of the main peak. He then follows naturalist and anthropologist Tadao Kano’s sight lines as he makes his way along the tourist trails developed by the colonists, crossing the path of the highlanders of the island nation, conjuring the captured spirits of the big island before finally stopping at an impassable broken bridge and collapsed cliff-face. Liang Ting-Yu traces the Stone Gods of the valley in search of the frontlines of the battle for resources, and explores the beheaded ghosts that wander among the tribal villages and Han towns. Through these intersecting perspectives, Liang depicts the overlapping historical memories and the heterogeneous flow of landscapes on their shifting borderlands. And through the eyes of pigeons, Lee Li-Chung’s Tieguoshan erects a path that traverses the mountains and seas at the shipping office in the building of the NCPI and while overlooking Tieguoshan in the history of Yunlin County from various dimensions. What remains constant on this path of seeing stories is not the scenery, but the temporal-spatial strata that the storytellers traverse.

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