Rethinking Modernist and Realist Photography in 1970s Taiwan
This talk re-examines modernist as well as realist photography in Taiwan in the 1970s, two major photographic practices during the later period of Taiwan’s martial law era. Contextualising these two approaches of photographic practice within this specific political milieu, Professor Kuo argues that both practices are outcomes of the repressive political atmosphere, and that their concepts substantially differ from those originated in the West.
For the style of photographic modernism, leading figures such as Chang Chao-Tang and Hsieh Chun-Te began to create such photographic images in the 1960s, and some kind of ‘modernist’ touch continued to be their artistic signature from then on. But, expressions of absurdity, uneasiness or desolation in their works could be understood, I propose, as a means of resistance against or escape from the suffocating political reality of the time. This is to say, their images were not so much representations or contemplations of a highly industrialised/urbanised society, as we may see in the works of many Western modernist photographers during the early to mid-20th century.
In terms of the realist photography of this decade in Taiwan, such an approach was encouraged partly by the Native Literature Movement (鄉土文學運動) and Campaign for Cultural Formation (文化造型運動) in the second half of the 1970s, in which aesthetic paradigms started to shift from the Western or universal to the local. More importantly, when the legitimacy of the governing KMT regime appeared unstable due to its diplomatic defeats at that time, a collective need for knowing reality or truth among society surged. I suggest, however, Taiwanese realist photography can still be differentiated from such practices in the West under the core notion of positivism.
Kuo Li-Hsin 郭力昕 is a critic of photography and documentary film in Taiwan. He received his PhD in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and is currently Professor and Dean at the College of Communication, National Chengchi University, Taiwan. His publications in Chinese include: Writing Photography (1998), More Writings on Photography (2013), Interrogating Reality: Politics and De-politicisation of Documentary Film (2014), and Manufacturing Meaning: Discourse, Power and Cultural Politics in Realist Photography (2018).
This keynote address is presented as part of Remembering Taiwan's Martial Law Conference, 27-30 July 2021.