At the center of Taiwan’s art scene is photographer Chang Chao-Tang, whose roots go back to 1959, when he first picked up a camera as a high school student. Known for his primarily black-and-white street photos that reflect a strange and absurd reality in unexpected, everyday moments, Chang captures striking portraits that blend ideas of western surrealism and existentialism within Chinese ideology.
“I try to capture the moment when the real and the unreal meet–a kind of uneasy encounter of alienation and uncertainty,” Chang told us in an email. When asked why he photographs, he replied, “To solve external boredom and internal emptiness.”
That sense of alienation and hollowness can be read in many of the 72-year-old photographer’s images, which are often interpreted in relation to Taiwan’s Lost Generation and the repressive White Terror period that stretched from 1949 to 1987. “The choice of absurdity and surrealist approach reflects the ideology and oppression of the times,” Chang, who unveiled his first retrospective solo exhibition at the Taiwan Fine Arts Museum in 2013 , told Invisible Photographer Asia. “My imagery serves as a confession of the anger and loss felt by the youths within a conservative and bored political reality. I want to articulate the very essence of life through questions and doubts.”
Although Chang, an influential mentor to many younger photographers in Taiwan, has been called “Taiwan’s most representative photographer,” he rejects that label.
“That title is a burden of vanity, it’s not at all important,” he told us. “I only want to do the things I like in the years I have left.”
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Chang Chao-Tang.