Taiwanese photographer Wang Hsin has dedicated her career to exploring the capacity of photography to forge deeper understanding between people.
The exhibition displays her work from the 1970s to the present, including many previously unseen photographs recovered from damaged negatives.
The exhibition “Line of Vision – The Photography of Wang Hsin” is on at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) from 29 October 2016 until 5 March 2017. The exhibition presents an overview of Wang Hsin’s work organised into 14 themes, which provide an insight into various stages of her career from the 1970s to the present. These stages include her student work, her work from periodicals and exhibitions, her work with indigenous people from 1973 to 1977 and her street photography from 1980 to 1990, as well as her most recent work.
In addition, the exhibition contains a vast quantity of new prints, many of which were recovered from damaged negatives and which have been repaired by one of her students. This is the first time these images will be presented in an exhibition.
Given that some of the negatives have been repaired, Wang notes that their print quality is at times not as sharp. However, she adds that the focus of the exhibition is not solely on the technical quality of the works, but also in the ability of photography to give insight into society. She explains in the exhibition text that
the focus of this exhibition is completely centred on portraying the changes in Taiwanese society and the human environment, which I have recorded bit by bit over the years. Likewise, it is my hope that this exhibition will help everyone realise that the art of photography is about not just how to handle a camera, but how to look at things and understand them. At the same time, I hope more people will come to comprehend what serialised documentary photography is.
Early experiences in Wushe
Wang was born in Lugang in 1941 and grew up in Taichung Taiwan. She started out working in animal husbandry before moving into photography in 1970. After gaining a degree from Tokyo College of Photography, she developed projects in the area of documentary photography.
Wang formed an interest in the indigenous people of Wushe from her time teaching at the Nantou County Aboriginal Agricultural Vocational High School in Wushe after graduating from the Pingtung Institute of Agriculture. During her time teaching there, she witnessed discrimination and prejudice against her indigenous students. She believed that this prejudice stemmed from a lack of understanding of another way of life or of other cultures. When she changed careers she saw her photography as a way to document the lives of indigenous people in order to share their way of life to help facilitate a deeper understanding of their culture.
Therefore, when Wang was developing her graduation project she returned to Taiwan and her roots in her town Taichung. In her next project, from 1972 to 1973, Wang turned her attention to Seediq people of Wushe. Titled “A Trip to Wushe” the project questioned uniformed stereotypes of the Seediq by documenting their lives.
When Wang’s work toured to both Taiwan and Japan in 1974, she became known as a pioneer of Taiwanese documentary photography. She continued her work with local communities with a project from 1974 to 1975 where she photographed the Tao people of Orchid Island, a project documenting the traditional lifestyle and landscape of Penghu (1979 and 1989) and a series documenting scenes of life and religious rituals in Tibet (1992).
Forging deeper understanding through art
For Wang, her camera is a tool of expression. As curator Yi-ting Lei comments in the exhibition text, Wang is
motivated by humanitarian concern, she set out to bear witness to the vanishing cultures of indigenous people and common folk of city and countryside alike, and to convey the message that we should respect the differences among various cultures. She treasures the narrative nature of photographs. The hard tone of her black-and-white images has a melancholy, lonely quality and a precise yet warm feeling. Her works possess both documentary and creative value. Within their coarse granularity and dark hues lie the struggle and hope of humanity.
These series, developed over a long period of time and often taken in black and white photography, are driven by the need to foster deeper understanding between cultures.
During this process Wang reflected upon diverse ways of life that had marked Taiwan. In her series “The Folklife of Penghu” she contemplated the blood and toil involved in the country’s immigration history, while from 1974 to 1976 she documented Taiwan’s nine major indigenous groups. By delving into these past and present customs, Wang explored how different landscapes developed diverse ways of life, one not superior to another.
Aside from these long-term series, Wang also has many single or spontaneous photographs. These are often taken while she is travelling, for example on trips to India, Nepal and Kashmir. The process is more emotional and driven by an instinctive aesthetic. She explains in the exhibition text that
When it comes to scenery, I particularly love clouds and the sea. When it comes to objects, I seek to extract their abstract idea.
In 2003 Wang started using a digital camera, which she carried with her everywhere. The portable and low-resolution camera enabled her to capture more spontaneous scenes in her daily life. In 2007 she began to experiment with editing the photos and adjusting the colours. This process of experimentation is something Wang has been working on in the past few years without a specific subject matter in mind. The aesthetic is quite distinct from her reportorial photograph series, and reflects the curiosity and exploratory nature of Wang’s creative process.
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