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  Literature and Artistic Development

A Glimpse of Photographic Culture over the Century (Li-Hsin Kuo)


Generally speaking, it is relatively easy to achieve the transfer or adoption of a new technology and hardware, but it takes a long and complex process of learning, wrestling, and introspection for new cultural creativity, art forms and media images to become a part of the society. The latter, such as photography, cannot become a rich and substantial entity with its own independent characteristics without constant confrontation and interaction with local politics, culture and thinking. Photography, from the perspective of history, is a foreign subject and device brought into China and Taiwan by colonists and conquerors. Although it once lacked local accents, it has gradually acquired characteristics unique to Taiwan after a hundred years of development.

Photography arrived in China only four years after its invention in Europe when it was introduced to China through the diplomatic interactions of the imperial government of the Ching dynasty with the west. The first photo gallery in China, though owned by western people, opened in Hong Kong in 1846. Since then, numerous professional and amateur photographers thereupon traveled in China, taking photos of this ancient and mysterious land. Thus, photography soon became a popular subject or activity among Chinese people. During the period from 1911 to 1949, two developments were particularly notable in the history of photography. One is the photojournalism which arose between the May Fourth Movement and the Lugouqiao Incident; the other was landscape photography, which presented images in a way close to Chinese painting from the very beginning, and later provided a reference to salon photography, a popular mainstream photographic medium in Taiwan after the Republic of China relocated to the island.

Just like in China, the initial experience of Taiwanese people with photography was through foreigners; and, it was through Japanese in the period between 1895 and 1945 as the island was ruled by Japan at that time. Although most of the photographers were Japanese government reporters and anthropologists, amateur Taiwanese photographers and photo galleries run by Taiwanese began to take photos with a Taiwanese touch, igniting the development of Taiwanese photography.

After the government of the Republic of China moved to Taiwan in 1949, the island soon entered a long period of political control and suppression of speech, which gave little room for the freedom of expression and suffocated all forms of arts. Under such circumstances, only two types of photography survived or were encouraged, one being the news photography speaking for the government; and the other salon photography. The latter was the only form of photography allowed to the public during the time. Lang Jing-shan was the most prominent photographer who worked in alignment with this policy and was notable in the promotion of salon photography. In addition to Lang Jing-shan, the other noteworthy photographer of the time was Chang Chao-tang, whose influence was not limited to 1960’s but peaked later in the period from 1970 to1985.

In the 1970’s, the quest for political freedom and the yearning for the revival of local culture were becoming louder. Aggressive discussion in the media and social movements drew the attention of the public and inspired a shared concern in social issues by the public. Photographers were inevitably affected by the trend, and their cameras began to aim at social reality and issues. Consequently, in the period from 1997 to 1990, documentary photography and photojournalism were brought to the center stage. “Jen Jian Magazine,” first published in 1985 by Chen Ying-chen, played a critical role in promoting and leading the new trends. This article will discuss the rise and fall of the magazine and its meaning to society and the development of photography in Taiwan. In addition, the most representative photographers of the time, namely Liang Chu-cheng, Wang Hsin, Juan Yi-chung, and Kuan Hsiao-jung and their works and contributions will be introduced.

The year of 1990 is the turning point for politics and the development of photography in the world and Taiwan. For the world, the downfall of the Soviet Union announced the triumph of capitalism. Moreover, the trend of globalization led by the United States soon swept through the world. In Taiwan, martial law was abolished in the late 1980’s, encouraging the rise of the social movements and speeding up the democratization. In addition, the arrival of the internet age, consumer culture, and post-modern ambience etc. brought more challenges to social reform and cultural reconstruction, but at the same time facilitated diverse and multiple developments in every aspect. These changes and transition were reflected in photography. Many photographers chose to define their role as visual artists in recording, reflecting on, and criticizing social events and realities by the use of versatile materials, mediums and methods. Nevertheless, in the midst of such changes, a few photographers insisted on and continued in their pursuit of realist photography. The works of Ho Jing-tai, Chen Jing-bao and Shen Chao-liang are worth mentioning and are discussed in this article.

After the long dedication of pioneering photographers, photography has gradually come to compose a diverse, colorful and flourishing scene in the recent past thirty years. Furthermore, digital technology such as computer graphics, and the widespread use of the digital camera and cell phone cameras, etc. provide more alternatives and possibilities for photography, and thus changes in the photography landscape and culture that were once built on the traditional practice. Photography today is no longer merely a technology or a medium lacking artistic substance and value, but has become a visual art form and medium that offers the most extensive possibilities and has the most powerful influence over the public.



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