Image Map : Chang Tsai Retrospective Photography Exhibition

Born in 1916 in the Dadaocheng area of Taipei City, Chang Tsai (1916-1995) had an older brother, Chang Wei-hsian, who was passionately committed to Taiwan’s New Culture Movement. Chang Tsai’s childhood was filled with memories of taking the stage to act in the “Drama Study Society” that his brother founded, and traveling far and wide to join in interesting events. This also awoke in him a sense of concern and empathy for the lives of ordinary people. In 1934, his brother arranged for him to study photography in Japan, where he relied on some friends his brother had made at the Tsukiji Little Theatre, who were of an avant-garde frame of mind and were advocates of “New Photography.” With an introduction from these friends, he switched enrollment to the Musashino School of Photography under the direction of Senichi Kimura, and after graduating, continued his studies at the Kudou School of Photography, which specialized in portraiture. In 1936 he returned to Taiwan, and opened the Ying Xin Photography Studio on Taiyuan Road in Taipei City. Between 1942 and 1946, Chang Tsai traveled back and forth between Taipei and Shanghai three times, and with his Leica camera he documented the urban street scenes of Shanghai during that era. This series of photos not only exhibited an extremely high degree of artistry, but also filled in a blank space in the photographic history of China during the 1940s.

After the Chinese Nationalist government moved to Taiwan following their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, Chang Tsai was unable to return to Shanghai. Instead, he took part in a field survey of indigenous people conducted by a group of anthropology professors from National Taiwan University, taking a celebrated series of pictures of Orchid Island and its native inhabitants that captured their sincere, simple lifestyle and personalities. During the same period, he also became deeply fascinated with temple celebrations and the Taiwanese opera troupes that feted the gods at these festivals. His camera captured vivacious images of boisterous Taiwanese popular religious festivals of the 1950s, solemn worshippers, bountiful offerings, sacrificial pigs, and poignant backstage images of hard-working opera performers. After establishing the Daxin Photo Supply Store on Yanping North Road in 1957, Chang Tsai concentrated on running a color photo finishing business, and engaged less frequently in photographic creation. In 1987 he served as a judge in an open exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. During the 1990s, Chang Tsai picked up his camera once more, and captured a series of colorful scenic photos from his travels abroad. Through an abstract style, he symbolically expressed the psychological dimensions of his later years and his feelings about life.

Chang Tsai once said: “My own philosophy about photography is, I like to take pictures directly. I try hard to avoid fake depictions. I often rely on intuition to subjectively interpret things or express forms, or display metaphorical imaginings, or produce symbolic images, or do faithful documentation.” With heartfelt emotions he used his viewfinder to plainly, directly reflect human life. His images were intimate, pure and powerful. He touched the heart, and he became a paragon of Taiwanese documentary photography. This exhibition presents over 200 black-and-white photographs, spanning the themes “Shanghai 1942-1946,” “Portraits of the Aborigines, ” “Reflections of the Times, ” “Sacrificial Pig Festival, Sansia, ” “Festival of Lord Dazhong, Sinjhuang, ” “Behind the Scenes of Taiwanese Opera,” “A Leader in the Era of Photography Societies,” and “Ying Xin 1987-1989.” The exhibition will also display Chang Tsai’s Leica camera, a tealeaf can in which he stored his film, photos he took of everyday scenes from his life, a collection of original prints, as well as his prized phonograph and vinyl records, in the hope of fully presenting the outstanding, rich life and images of this pioneer of Taiwanese documentary photography.