Creating a Taiwanese Discourse

The Rise of Photography Publishing

2018 / November

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Lee Wei-i /tr. by Scott Williams

Books have become an important medium for displaying photographs, and crucial to establishing their subjectivity. In this era of dime-a-dozen online images and fragmented online information, the organization, perspective and impetus to debate that books provide continue to serve as the foundation for discourse about Taiwanese photography. 


Tien Yu-hua, Hang Dah-­parng, and ­Chang ­Liang-i completed their compulsory military service in the early 1990s. While in uniform, all three had duties that enabled them to photograph military life in the period shortly after the end of martial law.

Strangers to one another while serving, the three became colleagues after their discharge, and subsequently discovered that each had documented their time in the military in pictures. But, unable to find an appropriate venue in which to display their photographs, they eventually shelved their dream of a joint exhibition.

In 2016, the three men approached ­Chang Chao-tang, an important figure in Taiwan’s photography circles, for advice. Tien recalls that ­Chang looked at their photos, then told them: “You young men are going about this the wrong way. You should first publish a book to preserve these valuable pictures, and then arrange an exhibition.”

Photo books as cultural archives

Chang described their collection of photos as “rare and unique.”

Tien and Hang both hold degrees in journalism and trained in photography. Tien’s military photographs focused on the daily lives of his fellow soldiers. Assigned to photographic duties, Hang took landscape shots that are both clinical and critical. ­Chang ­Liang-i shot portraits for his fellow soldiers. Looking back over them, he remarks: “All my photos are of friends in my company, but revisiting them now, more than 20 years later, I see that I was really taking pictures of myself. Their expressions all reflect my own sense of being mentally shackled while serving.”

Chang Chao-tang edited the collected volume of the three men’s photographs. Entitled The Soldiers, the book opens with a photo Tien took of a forest in the distance, immediately announcing to the reader that the book depicts a mysterious place, not easily glimpsed. The collection’s focus slowly zeros in on daily life in the military, as soldiers’ faces become clearer. Hang’s photos of recruits reporting for duty, and of units drilling, come next, along with depictions of their extracurricular cigarette smoking, arguing, and gambling. The book concludes with ­Chang ­Liang-i’s portraits, which, with the end of conscription in Taiwan, record a time now gone forever.

Publishing diversity

Exhibitions and books display photo­graphic works in different ways, and act as different vectors for the art. While exhibitions remain important to ­contemporary ­photography, books ­provide an ­alternative that has been gaining in ­prominence.

Photographer Tsao ­Liang-pin,  founder of the Lightbox Photo Library, says he loves the experience of reading books. He explains that books are tangible and can be revisited again and again. With the passage of time, they become a part of history and gain a cultural significance that transforms them from mere texts into works of art.

As photographic publishing has developed, the concept of the “photography book” has become more refined. Tsao says that he sees photography books as having a stronger organizing principle than photography collections. Moreover, calling it a book suggests that it should be “read” to be understood, not just casually thumbed through.

Lee Wei-i, editor-in-chief of the magazine Voices of Photography, also sees photography books as more than simply collections of photographic works. Instead, he argues that the medium is itself a work in which every­thing from the editorial design to the binding, paper and inks provides the reader with information. “Photography books are narrative works that integrate photographs into the medium.”

This idea implies the need for a more detailed consideration of photographic discourse. Tsao cites the book Before the Dawn: The Sunflower Movement, which documents the Sunflower Student Movement in crowdsourced photographs and was published using crowdfunding, to illustrate his observations on photography publishing: “From a technical standpoint, many of the photos might not be to professional standards. But they possess a social and cultural significance that opens our eyes to a new way of thinking about photography books.”

Lee mentions the middle-aged Shen Chao-­liang and Chou Ching-­hui, and the younger Hou I-ting and Lee Yeh­ling, as examples of photographers who have ceased to be simply streetside scene-hunters with cameras, and have instead become “photo-­based artists.” Shen and Chou’s transition from their early realistic photographs to their more recent “Stage” and “Animal Farm” series has moved them towards a more artistic level of expression that draws on a vocabulary increasingly like that of contemporary art. Hou, in her book Lík-sú Tsiam-tsílâng, has added embroidery to Japanese-era photographs of girls’ schools to create images that combine post-­colonialism, feminism and physical labor, and open our minds to the photographic imagination. Lee, meanwhile, has created in Raw Soul a kind of atmosphere and visual or imaginative space that engenders a sense of openness that should be experienced precisely because it offers no answers.

Creating a local discourse

Voices of Photography (VOP) is a must-read independent photography magazine that discusses contemporary Taiwanese photo publishing.

A repeat winner of the Ministry of Culture’s Golden Tripod Award for Best Arts and Humanities Magazine, as well as other prizes, VOP is one of very few domestic publications to examine the nature and significance of photographs from the standpoints of culture, art, history and society. Founder and editor-in-chief Lee Wei-i chooses each issue’s subject-matter by drawing on photography-related questions he personally finds intriguing, which has resulted in issues dedi­cated to ­Chang Chao-tang, Cold War imagery, and Korea.   

Lee has asked many questions about photography publishing since the magazine’s 2011 launch. In a 2012 special edition on “The Taiwan Photo­book,” five photographers and critics closely examined the era of Taiwanese photography books. In 2014’s “A Study of Photo Publications,” the magazine combed through pho­to­gra­phy magazines from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China seeking the pulse of their respective photographic cultures and the connections between them. In 2016’s “Photo­book as Method,” the magazine invited the likes of ­Chang Shih-lun, Nieh Yung-chen and Gong Jow-jiun to discuss the history and cultural role of Taiwanese photography books.

Digging up such history is a major undertaking, especially in Taiwan, where information about old photographs is relatively lacking. Lee says that his team often visits libraries, painstakingly combing through historical documents to extract every relevant fact.

Lee’s greatest joy in the seven years since the magazine’s founding has been his readers’ appreciation of and response to the topics he has chosen to address. His hope is that VOP’s diverse discussions will serve as a platform for fostering discourse on Taiwanese photography. Looking back to the magazine’s founding, Lee recalls that Kuo Li-hsin suggested the use of the plural “voices” in its title to represent the clamor of public discussion and conversation—something Lee believes that Taiwanese photography sorely needs—and the goal of using the publication to dissect and interpret photographs from a variety of perspectives.

Moving forward, Lee hopes to bring the magazine’s content into the physical world, perhaps curating exhibitions for each issue’s featured artist. In the meantime, he published a collection of Kuo’s photography criticism, Manufacturing Meaning: Discourse, Power and Cultural Politics in Realist Photography, early this year, and has a collection of ­Chang Chao-tang’s articles coming out soon. Believing that Taiwan needs to be aware of the state of photography in nearby Southeast-­Asian nations, he has a history of Southeast-Asian photography being translated, and plans to publish it next year.

Discourse is an accretive process that can’t be forced or hurried. Tsao established the Lightbox Photo Library to address the fact that information on Taiwanese photography remains scattered and disorganized. The library, which has collected more than 3,000 pieces of information to date, relies on book donations from like-minded members of the public. The independently published VOP is also fostering this discourse, and has put tremendous pressure on itself by making subscriptions available since its fourth issue. Speaking about those subscriptions, Lee says, “I see them as a ‘pinky promise’ between myself and readers. The pressure they create provides me with an incentive to keep publishing.”

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3人の作品は張照堂の編集によって『阿兵哥3x1:(The Soldiers):田裕華杭大鵬張良一的軍旅映像』として一冊にまとめられた。写真集は遠くに樹林をとらえた田裕華の神秘的な作品から始まり、少しずつ軍隊の日常生活に入っていく。兵士の顔がしだいにクリアになり、新兵の入隊手続や訓練、そして喫煙や遊び、賭け事などの様子がとらえられ、最後に張良一による兵士のポートレートで終わる。







李威儀は、中堅の沈昭良や周慶輝、若手の侯怡亭、李岳凌などを例に挙げ、最近の写真家は写真を撮るだけでなく、photo-based artの創作に向っていると見る。沈昭良と周慶輝はかつて記録写真を撮っていたが、最近の『Stage』や『人的荘園』は現代アートの手法を用いている。侯怡亭の『歴史刺繍人』は、収集した日本統治時代の女学校の写真に刺繍を施すことで、植民地主義やフェミニズム、肉体労働などを考えさせる作品である。李岳凌の『Raw Soul』はビジュアルを通してある種の雰囲気や想像の空間を提供するもので、特定の答えを求めるものではない。さらに曹良賓は李岳凌を例に挙げる。李岳凌はもともとサウンドアーティストだったので、その作品に彼の選んだ音楽を合わせれば、より素晴らしい効果が得られるに違いないという。



台湾の写真出版を論じる時、必ず挙げられるのは『撮影之声(Voices of Photography、略称VOP)』である。





創刊から7年、李威儀が関心を寄せるテーマには常に大きな反響が寄せられてきた。将来的には『撮影之声』が一つのプラットフォームとなり、そこでの多様な議論が台湾の写真ディスコースの養分となることを願っている。英語の雑誌名を『Voices of Photography』と言う通りである。Voicesと複数形にしたのは郭力)}のアドバイスで、百家争鳴を意味する。これこそ台湾の写真界が求めているもので、さまざまな角度から写真をとらえ、解釈していくことなのである。





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李威儀則以中生代的沈昭良、周慶輝,和新生代的侯怡亭、李岳凌為例,當今攝影家不再只是那個拿著相機在街頭上的獵景者,而是出現photo-based artist的創作者,一種趨向藝術創作的型態。沈昭良、周慶輝從早期的紀實攝影,到近期創作《Stage》、《人的莊園》,使用更趨近當代藝術的語彙,進入更藝術性表達的層次;而侯怡亭的《歷史刺繡人》,收集日治時期女子學校的老照片,並在其上刺繡,整體影像結合了殖民主義、女性主義、身體勞動,也開發了我們對攝影的想像;李岳凌的作品《Raw Soul》,它提供的某種氛圍、氣場、視覺感或想像空間,是開放性的感受,也因為其沒有答案而值得玩味。曹良賓更補充,李岳凌原是聲音藝術家,他的作品若能搭配他挑選的音樂,兩種感覺結合在一起,超棒的!



當今討論台灣的攝影出版,「不可不讀」的當屬台灣獨立出版的攝影雜誌《攝影之聲》(Voices of Photography,簡稱VOP)。





從創刊至今已經7年了,他關注的議題能有讀者喜歡、有共鳴,是他最開心的事。他也希望VOP作為一個平台,藉著多元討論,能成為台灣攝影論述的養分。一如刊名《Voices of Photography》,Voices的s是郭力昕建議的,聲響的複數,象徵著眾聲喧嘩,而這正是台灣攝影需要的,從各種角度切入去閱讀影像,解讀攝影。



X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!