zondag 15 februari 2015

The Chain Chien-Chi Chang The Chinese Photobook Curated by Martin Parr and WassinkLundgren Photography

The Chain Chien-Chi Chang

Tied up like animals, a human chain of 700 psy chiatric patients in the Lung Fa Tang Temple in Taiwan are tethered by their ankles to farm one million chickens. Seen as a way to help both themselves and the families who have rejected them, this book confronts the astounding feats of their captivity.

Laying out the chain

World-renowned photographer Chien-chi Chang brings his haunting images to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in an exhibition titled 'The Chain'

Chang Chien-chi (張乾琦) rings the buzzer on a storefront in New York's Chinatown and waits for the disembodied voice to tell him to come in. Upstairs is Charles Griffin's studio, one that prints enormous photographs for exhibitions. Chang can't wait to see the first nearly life-sized prints of a series of portraits he made halfway around the world, in Taiwan.
The master printer fastens one of the huge photographs to the wall and the paper unrolls, revealing two men holding hands, a chain locking them together at their waists. Griffin hangs another print. Three women with shaved heads, also chained, are captured in a triptych reminiscent of a grotesque ballet pose.
Forty portraits, which Chang collec tively calls The Chain, make up the heart of an exhibition which opens tomorrow at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. They were taken at a mental care institution called Lungfatang (龍發堂) in southern Taiwan, which is a mixture of Buddhist temple, psychological care clinic and chicken farm. At the institute which is no stranger to controversy, pairs of inmates are yoked as they work, eat, shower, even go to the toilet.
"Why do they chain them together?" asks Griffin.
"Usually one is more stable," says Chang.
"That's radical therapy," says Griffin.
Griffin's assistant says that after printing the portraits, he was haunted by the faces, the sores on the feet. "The strange thing is the pictures are really beautiful, too," says Griffin.
A search for truth
Chang began visiting the institution in 1993. In 1998, the inmates were paraded through a warehouse, where they paused in the light from an open door as Chang took a few frames. "Seven years of going back over and over again for pictures that took just 1/25 of a second to capture," says Chang. Looking at the pictures later, Chang decided he had found truth. "Everything is there -- all the information, the emotion."
After majoring in English at Soochow University in Taiwan, Chang went to Indiana University in the US, where he took a course in photography and discovered his career. Photographer Eugene Richards had Chang as a workshop student during those early days. "He was a little bit crazed," recalls Richards. "We would find him asleep on the floor in the classroom -- obsessed with photography." One of the things that Richards pushes his students to do, he says, is to examine themselves and their own lives. "We're all afraid to look at ourselves. Most photographers don't," says Richards. "Ultimately, Chien-Chi did."
Not far from Griffin's Chinatown studio is a tenement apartment where some 50 illegal immigrants from Fujian sleep in shifts and wake to work 16-hour days in the garment factories and restaurants of Chinatown, sending what little money they make back to their families. Drawn to people who, like himself, were trying to make their way in a new place, Chang moved into the apartment. The photographs he made there earned him stories inNational Geographic and Time magazines, the Missouri Magazine Photographer of the Year award, a first place World Press Photo award and the prestigious W Eugene Smith grant.
A Chinese crowd swirls in the street under an American flag. Men look at snapshots from home or talk on the phone, telephone cords linking them to their homes in China. Mel Rosenthal who teaches photography at Empire State College in New York City, believes it is Chang's own double vision that gives these pictures their richness. "Though he is to some extent an insider, he is looking as an outsider," he says. "His work is always social, cultural, rather than about a single event or individual."
Chang heads off to visit another printer preparing pictures for his exhibit. Not far from Chinatown, Brian Young's Manhattan studio is in a quieter, hipper, New York world of images and art. Chang is equally comfortable here.
Donning white cotton gloves, Chang fastidiously unrolls the silver gelatin prints. "Every print is different -- the human touch," he says. "I'd never be happy with computer prints." He peers at the surface, blows on the fiber paper to see whether the spot is a speck of dust or an imperfection. The unmistakable shape of an elephant looms amid tropical wilderness, but the elephant is chained. Chang examines the other photographs he took of these animals in Thailand, maimed by land mines, undergoing surgery, dying and dead.
A poet with a camera
Then come the brides. Not a celebratory wedding album but a jaundiced look at the industry and tradition of marriage. A couple is caught in a net of spray-string confetti. A chain of wedding couples kiss in a zoo. Chang, the unwed eldest son with four sisters, admits that the theme of this series was his own internal conflict about marriage. "I had to do something to channel all this traditional family pressure," he says wryly. Perhaps the most evocative photograph is of a post-nuptial couple in the back of a limousine, sound asleep. It is a funny picture, and sad, and one that no one else could have seen in quite the same way.
Those qualities led Chang's photographs to be selected by the exclusive photo agency, Magnum, for its own world tour exhibition. "Magnum has always been built on someone who sees differently, recognizes the quirkiness and incongruities of life," says long-time Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths. "Chien-chi puts something of himself into his pictures, is delighted by what he finds around him. He is a poet with a camera."
The poet is now in the offices of Magnum, where he has been printing recent photographs for Germany's Geo magazine. He travels light, with two Leicas and a few lenses, and his own vision of the world. Those who have watched him shoot say it is hard to tell what he is seeing as he prepares to snap a shot, that it is only later the composition emerges. "Every detail counts," explains Chang.
And so he lays out The Chain on the floor of the photo agency at midnight to order the pictures the way they will appear on the wall of the museum. The pairs of asylum inmates separate and move together, come towards the viewer and retire. "If you look, you will see the invisible chain all the way," says Chang. And if you look, you will see the invisible chain in all of his photographs, the ties to home and bonds of marriage, and in Chang's case, the unbreakable connection to his work. "It's about freedom, I guess," he says.

In the last decade there has been a major reappraisal of the role and status of the photobook within the history of photography. Revisionist histories have added enormously to our understanding of the medium’s culture, particularly in places that are often marginalized, such as Latin America and Africa. However, until now, only three Chinese photobooks have made it onto historians’ short lists.

Yet China has a fascinating history of photobook publishing, and Aperture’s exhibition The Chinese Photobook will reveal for the first time the richness and diversity of this heritage. Divided into six historical sections, it will delight and engage photobook enthusiasts with the excitement of discovery. Based on a collection compiled by Martin Parr and Beijing- and London-based Dutch photographer team WassinkLundgrenThe Chinese Photobook embodies an unprecedented amount of research and scholarship, and includes accompanying texts and individual title descriptions by Raymond Lum, Stephanie Tung, and Gu Zheng.

The Chinese Photobook will also reveal much about China itself, and the country’s dramatic twists and turns during the last 150 years.
Martin Parr is a key figure in the world of photography, recognized as a brilliant satirist of contemporary life. Author of over thirty photography books, his photographs have been collected by museums worldwide, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Tate Modern, London. Parr is a member of Magnum Photos.
WassinkLundgren is a collaboration between Dutch artists Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren. Their work together includes book projects, exhibitions, and photography commissions. They met while studying at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands and have worked together since 2005. They have received several awards, including the Dutch Doc Award and Foto Kees Scherer Prijs for best photobook, and have been nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award.
Includes approximately fifty-five books (with an average of eight to ten books in each of the six sections) and eighty framed portfolio pages, as well as video slideshows that will allow the viewer to “flip” through the more delicate books that must be presented in vitrines. Less rare books will be available for handling on a viewing table. In addition, the exhibitor will receive high-res tear-sheet files, which will be produced by the venue as vinyl blowups.

Chien-Chi Chang: Chinatown (New York and Fuzhou, 1992-2011) from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

In our latest photo essay made in collaboration with Magnum Photos, Chien-Chi Chang presents us with a collection of photographs taken between 1992-2011 illumintating the visible and invisible worlds of Chinatown, New York City.
"The men of Fuzhou, China leave their wives and families to work as dishwashers, cooks, carpenters and day laborers in New York City’s Chinatown. Their little leisure time is spent in overcrowded dorm like apartments where they cook, eat, sleep and dream of prosperity and of home.
The women of Fuzhou raise their children with the money absent fathers send back to China. Such bifurcated lives mean that many families spend their time waiting for the men of the household to either send for them or return home. In the end, it’s all about the essential human need to hold hope in your hands and having the willingness to sacrifice your own happiness to realize the dream of giving children a better life." - Chien-Chi Chang

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