Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 06 2018

San Francisco, Part 5

After the bus I thought was taking me to the ferry building unexpectedly veered off onto a side street, I got off and hurried over to meet Andy before we walked over to where our students were waiting. We discussed a few things before sending them off to shoot. Then Andy, Harvey and I took a circuitous route through downtown in the general direction of Glass Key, where we were meeting everyone for afternoon discussions and final reviews. I was gratified to see that most everyone seemed to show significant improvement, and were happy with their progress. My friend Ben Molina arrived as we were finishing up; I introduced him to Andy, and we walked back down towards Andy’s hotel, stopping along the way to shoot some nicely lit corners. After hamburgers for dinner, we went over to Cameraworks to meet up with some old friends, including Tyler and Skyid, and new ones such as Fadi. I wish I had more time to meet the other guys, but alas, I’m coming down with a cold, and my flight back to Taipei is tomorrow.

It’s been interesting, and kind of bizarre. San Francisco always seems a little bizarre to me, and that seems magnified in the photography scene, and more so in the local street photography scene, which is full of drama and intrigue and passion that seems incommensurate with what actually gets produced. Perhaps it’s simply the character of the city, but I’m not entirely sure I could ever be comfortable in such a place, physically or mentally.

posted by Poagao at 1:25 pm  
Jun 05 2018

San Francisco, Episode IV

The second day of the workshop was quite fruitful. Some of the students were already showing quite a difference as they tried new things and new approaches. We met at the Hyatt lobby and talked about the previous day’s work and set challenges for each student based on what they needed to work on, and they went off on their various missions while Andy, Harvey and I walked around Union Square amid the tourists, touts and of course the ubiquitous mentally ill homeless people that are such a prominent feature of this burg.

Later we all walked over to Glass Key photo, where I gave a small presentation on some thoughts I’ve had on the subject of motives in street photography, and we went over some of the students’ work. There was a little pushback, but that’s to be expected. There were also surprises. All in all it was a promising session.

Andy was giving a talk that night at the Harvey Milk Center, so we Ubered over there in a Dodge Challenger whose driver was playing an oldies rap station we were all digging. After Andy’s talk we listened to another by Michelle Groskopf presenting her wonderfully intimate flash work.

Tired and hungry after the long day, Andy, Harvey, and I were joined by Andy’s old college roommate, who is now a world-class yo-yo practitioner, and an aspiring community college photography teacher who had many questions for me, for pizza nearby.

posted by Poagao at 9:47 pm  
Jun 04 2018

San Francisco, Part 3

Ken and I went over to one of the photo spaces on Market on Saturday to attend the “Ethics of Street Photography” talk they were giving. There was very little of either in the talk, but I did meet Pei Ketron again, as she was one of the organizers of the thing, as well as a photowalk afterward. Pei came to one of my solo exhibitions in Taipei years ago. After the photowalkers had left, Ken, Joe, Jake and I put up some photos, soon joined by Andy, who had just gotten in the night before. Then we went out to shoot and chat as the light was nice downtown with lots of reflections from all the glass buildings. We had some good ramen at a place where they actually give you a whole egg instead of half of one as they do in Japan and Taiwan…American portion growth over the past twenty years continues to baffle me. After the others left, Andy and I had some drinks at the jazz bar on the second floor of his hotel, the Mystic, which seems like a great name for a hotel.

The first day of the workshop (Sunday) went well. I walked over to the Harvey Milk Center in the morning, dodging skateboarders and scooters, admiring the open windows and detailed architecture of the houses here. At the Center, which is located close to the Castro up the street, I met our assistant, who is conveniently if uncannily named Harvey Castro. It’s as if he was named just for this workshop, but he insisted that this is in fact his real name.

Some of the students were sitting on a bench outside, and we chatted a bit while I ate the bagged breakfast I’d bought at a corner store on the way. Andy had arrived but was out shooting, but we all congregated in the classroom at 11. One of the students who had had an email mixup decided he wasn’t interested at the last minute. Something about not really being into having his photos reviewed. Ok.

Andy and I introduced the workshop and ourselves, and we proceeded to review the works the students had brought; there was some very nice stuff, and we were able to figure out more or less what areas they needed to work on. Later, we boarded a train downtown and took the students shooting, meeting up at intervals and doing some individual guidance as we went. As evening approached and the students departed, Andy, Harvey and I climbed the stops above the tunnel and had some drinks at the Tunnel Top bar before catching an uber out to a Korean barbecue restaurant to meet up with Joe, Rob and Rob’s wife. The food was excellent, and I ate way too much as I hadn’t had any lunch.

I am now staying at Ken’s place as the basement I was previously staying at is otherwise occupied, but it’s all good. I’m sitting in his dining room right now typing this early on Monday morning before anyone else is up. Today we’re meeting the students in the lobby of the Hyatt downtown, and Andy says if they try to throw us out he’ll whip out his Hyatt Member Card, but hopefully it won’t come to such drastic measures.

posted by Poagao at 9:59 pm  
May 16 2018

Books, photography, albums, etc.

While it’s nice and all that my book Barbarian at the Gate: From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army has been listed on Taiwaneseamerican.org’s 50 Books for Your Taiwanese American Library, their description of the book’s content is not quite accurate. But I suppose I’ll let any potential readers out there find that out for themselves. Coincidentally, also listed as well as shown in the lead image of the page is Francie Lin’s The Foreigner, which features one of my photographs as the cover art.

It’s hot and muggy out; everyone is waiting for the plum rains, but the weather just doesn’t seem interested this year. As the water flowing under the Bitan bridge assumes more of a coffee hue from the lack of rain, no doubt drought will be announced soon. I’ve been scanning old negatives at home while listening to podcasts, and am constantly amazed at how poorly the original photo labs printed these shots, cropping out significant portions of the photos and seemingly making exposure decisions at random. I’ve also been busy with my photography course, leading students around various part of northern Taiwan and covering material in the classroom, as well as planning for the upcoming BME street photography workshop in San Francisco that I’m teaching along with Andy Kochanowski. I’m looking forward to seeing the SF crowd again…if I make it into the country that is; I’ve successfully applied for the visa waiver program, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a decent immigration officer. The Muddy Basin Ramblers’ third album is slowly coming to fruition; the two riverside listening tests we’ve held so far have been promising. Other members of the band have predicted that this one’s going to be big…we’ll see. I’m just enjoying the ride, and regardless of how well it’s received, I’m happy to have been part of it.

Riverside testing our new album.

The catchword for 2018 so far has been “surreal”…everything feels like a loaded plate balanced at the very edge of a table, and half of us just want to see it fall. The transition from winter to summer is usually the most volatile, atmospherically speaking. China has increased its efforts to erase Taiwan from everyone’s awareness, and for all of their crowing about democracy and freedom, businesses, governments and media all around the world seem perfectly happy to go along with the charade. For our part, our precious leadership here in Taiwan, which has become infamous for the many things it hasn’t done since it came to power, has decided that screwing up our air quality is no big deal as long as they don’t have to face any criticism from raising our laughably low utility prices. And the U.S. is…well, you know. Plate. Table. Shrug.

But hey, happy thoughts! I should remember that I have a great deal to be grateful for, many opportunities in the four+ decades I’ve been on this particular rock. I’m lucky enough to have a great place to live, a good employment situation, health and friends. So, as the great Joe Walsh once said, “I can’t complain (but sometimes I still do).”

posted by Poagao at 11:34 am  
Mar 26 2018

Another world

Saturday was the Calla Lily Festival in Taoyuan, and the Muddy Basin Ramblers were playing. Though the event wasn’t far from the high speed rail station, we took a van from the Xindian metro station, listening to tunes on the portable speaker I’d gotten in Vancouver along the way as the driver navigated the traffic both on and off the freeway.

The event went well enough, though there was no cover on the stage; the sun was strong and poor Redman was without sunscreen for the two 45-minute sets. The audience was enthusiastic and the kids were (IMHO) properly ignoring the red cordon around the stage and dancing to the music. After we got back to Xindian everyone split except Redman, Slim and I; we headed over to the river to hang out for a bit listening to the swooning sax music and reflect on the day before heading back to our respective abodes.

On Sunday, I took my photography students on a walk around Linkou. We met at Taipei Station and basically commandeered a bus as it was the first stop and we basically filled the vehicle. The trip out was smooth and fast, up the highway through the valley lined with metal-roofed factories and now impossibly high roadways, past the metro stop to the Zhulin Mountain Buddhist Temple, the next-to-last stop. I figured the wide-open courtyard in front of the temple, with a good flow of people coming and going, would be a good place to go over the basics with our new students, this being the first outside activity of the semester. A few mechanical problems such as buttons stopping working and batteries refusing to come out of cameras had me wondering if we should have informed the temple gods what we were up to beforehand, but thankfully nothing too serious (None of my students use film cameras, alas, even though I’ve suggested that it’s a viable option, and I would welcome such experimentation).

After we were done at the temple, we walked over to the touristy old street for some lunch (beef noodles), and as we were heading out again we bumped into Bin-hou, one of our classmates from violin class. He lives in the area, but it was a neat coincidence. He’s also studying trumpet, and is currently in possession of my old Arban’s book of exercises, which happens to include traditional Chinese text for some reason. When I first bought it around 1981, I had no idea why that was the case, but now I know.

We continued walking towards the highway, and an old, half-demolished rowhouse caught my eye, so I went over to have a look. Behind it we found an old tea farmer just finishing up work in the fields. He enjoyed the attention and took us on a tour of the remaining half of his old house, which was built in the 1930’s, and then invited us to his shop for tea. As it turns out, he’s 90 years old, and apparently lives alone with only a Filipina caregiver named Annie. The teas he served got cheaper and more delicious as we went, by design I’m sure, just to prove that expensive tea isn’t necessarily better. If you’re interested in dropping by for a chat and some excellent tea, the place is called Hongyuan Tea, near the corner of Zhongzheng and Jialin Roads in Linkou. Just look for the half of a house.

As we continued to walk, the older buildings were replaced more and more by huge, modern apartment complexes and vast, empty parks; fewer and fewer people were to be found on the streets despite the pleasant weather. We ended up in front of the Mitsui Outlet Park mall, and although class had officially ended hours earlier, most of the students were still hanging out with us. The afternoon was waning, though, so we officially disbanded, and Chenbl and I went over to the outlet mall to take a look.

The mall is basically a Western mall in virtually every respect, surrounded by huge apartment blocks fronted with floor-length glass windows and nary a rack of metal bars to be seen. Occasionally we would see an ROC flag hanging from a luxury balcony. “Foreigners, most likely,” Chenbl commented.

We went into full-on Mall Mode, looking through the shops where everything seemed to be at least 60% off (of highly inflated prices, no doubt); I even bought some baggy jeans as the jeans in every other store I’ve seen are skinny and I can’t stand skinny jeans. Dinner completed the Western Mall fantasy with an actual, genuine god-damned avocado burger that made me feel both intestinally and morally compromised. Half of the mall is exposed to the open air, and the roof is covered with grass; a musical group surrounded by kids was playing the courtyard, under a roof that is apparently meant to collect rainwater. Next to the mall is an enormous parking garage, because of course there is; there are also superfluous pools and fountains. It was all quite surreal.

Night had fallen by this point. Feeling depleted, we walked out the main gate, past the entrance fountains, and along the wide avenues lined with huge, gleaming apartment blocks adorned with art-deco LED trimmings that shot up into the night towards the airliners that flew over every few minutes. “Everything is so big,” Chenbl exclaimed.

“It’s like Banqiao,” I offered, but he shook his head. Banqiao is apparently child’s play compared to Linkou on Chenbl’s scale of Surreal Western Enclavities.

Maybe it was the avocado burger, but the surreal experience of the mall and just the feeling of just not being in Taiwan for a period of time made me look forward to getting on the metro home. As we waited on the elevated platform among the gleaming buildings, though, I couldn’t help but noticed a father yelling at his son while his daughter watched. The kid was playing on the ground, and the father made a sort of twirl, lifting his foot and actually catching, seemingly by accident, the kid’s head with his foot. The boy didn’t say anything, just looking up at his father, but I thought it odd. Then, just before the train arrived, the man lifted a foot and violently stomped on the boy’s toy car, prompting an outburst from his son that the father refused to acknowledge.

As I was looking over at the scene, Chenbl warned, “Don’t stare.” It did seem that the man probably had violent tendencies. I wondered if they lived in the area. What kind of life would that be? All I know is that, if that boy survives his childhood, that man will have a very lonely old age, provided he survives that long either.

A group of loud foreigners in shorts and baseball caps who had gotten on the train with us preceded us at the terminal station in Taipei, so we took our time walking to the MRT station. I was exhausted after two consecutive days full of events; all I wanted was some time in my comfy bed before facing another week of work and classes.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 12:06 pm  
Feb 01 2018

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posted by Poagao at 2:29 pm  
Dec 11 2017

Not an easy weekend

Another crazy weekend with this year’s Tiger Mountain Ramble coinciding with cold, wet weather. I headed over to Bobwundaye on Friday night to reunite with our dear friend Steve Gardner for some serious jamming, and we made the acquaintance of another fine musician who came along for the gig: Jett Edwards, also a long-term American ex-pat in Tokyo. Jett plays a mean bass, and has seemingly endless energy in front of a crowd while being quite laid-back in person. Jett, Katrina and I were talking during a break about expats in general, and he mentioned that he’d encountered westerners in Japan who seemed to have “gone native” to the extent that they refused to speak English to him, only stammering confusedly in Japanese when he tried to talk to them. “Would these individuals happen to all be white dudes?” I asked him, and he gave me a knowing look.

“Of course,” he said, adding that in his experience, Black people don’t go native, at least not in that fashion. I was surprised to hear it; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that, and though I’ve gone through times when I avoided the company of westerners in general, particularly early on when I was studying Chinese, I’ve never gone to such extremes.

We played several sets, during which the thundering headache I’d had all day gradually subsided, but I felt a cold coming on, so I shared a cab with Cristina and Zach back to Xindian. I really should visit their new abode down there, it sounds very cool. Redman has apparently also secured a mountain lair…somewhere. I suppose he can’t be a very good spy if everyone knows where he lives. Oops, did I say “spy”? I meant “accountant”.

My cold was present and accounted for on Saturday, so I basically slept all day until it was time to head over to Tiger Mountain. I’d left in plenty of time to get there, but for some reason, after I exited Xiangshan Station, I could. not. find. a. cab. Several taxis drove by without stopping. One even stopped for a western couple standing not far away. I wondered if they too were heading to Tiger Mountain, and silently hoped they slipped in the mud and had costly dry-cleaning bills.

When I finally flagged down a cab, I told the driver about my difficulties. “Well, it’s no surprise,” he said, shrugging uncomfortably. “I mean, just look at you, dressed all in black, carrying a staff, standing on the corner there scowling at everyone…you looked like trouble. I wouldn’t blame anyone for electing to skip that fare for their own personal safety.” Well, at least he was honest; and I can’t find the lie.

The Tiger Mountain Ramble, which we’ve played every year since its inception, is always strange for me, centered around an abandoned temple into which some rather shifty local spirits have moved. It would be intimidating enough on its own, but fill it with hundreds of foreign devils, a technicolor stage truck, and several food stalls with rather expensive western foods, and it becomes surreal to say the least. The rain had stopped at least, though the ground will still muddy. I took some artsy mud shots with my phone. As one does.

Our show began after an excruciatingly long soundcheck. The sound people seemed to have little clue what was going on, and we eventually just said screw it, let’s start. Various instruments appeared and disappeared from the mix throughout the show, but the volume was painfully loud on stage. It’s a shame, because we all love playing gigs with our friends from Japan.

My ears and I all needed to rest after that, so I slipped out, luxuriating in the silence of the walk back down the mountain, though part of that silence was probably (hopefully) temporary deafness from the show.

As much as I wanted to rest on Sunday, I had to meet up with my photography students for class in the morning, followed by a trip out to Sanxia in the afternoon. We’d come up with a plan to take a bus from Ximen, and while that might have worked on paper, in practice it was rather trying. Though the light was nice, and there was a lot to shoot both on the bus and outside it along the way, the effort to remain standing on a crowded bus for over two hours as the driver stomped on his gas and brake pedals with the eagerness of a teenage Dance Dance Revolution aficionado was considerable. It was late afternoon by the time we staggered off the bus, and we headed over to the riverside for some peace. A small group of men were cooking under the bridge while another brought up some freshly caught fish for a meal.

We walked towards the main temple, which was packed with Pokemon-seeking zombies, providing a rather surreal foreground to the place, and then headed into the alleys. A few nice places have been built/renovated along the stream there, though a few pitiful remains of once-lovely structures remain. It’s a shame the owners lack the resources to fix them up; they could make a mint if they did so.

We took another bus on a thankfully much-shorter trip to the Shanjia train station, a station I recall from my army days as featuring a nice little stream running through it. The stream has largely covered by the new station, alas, but I did manage to get some photos, Nick Turpin-style, of passengers on the trains at the platform. Felt a little one-sided and fishbarrelesque.

I really would have appreciated a weekend to rest up from my weekend, but that’s just not the way things work, alas. I need to begin to work on our semester-end photobook, which means reviewing hundreds of shots from the past few months, and violin class again tonight has me thinking I probably should have practiced at some point during the week.

posted by Poagao at 12:15 pm  
Dec 04 2017

Exilations

Ideally, yesterday I would have taken full advantage of my day off, getting up early to go practice tai-chi in the park, having lunch with Chenbl’s family, reading photography books at Eslite in the afternoon, dinner with Eddie, our far-rambling pianist, and many other fellow musicians, followed by a late-night jam at Sappho and in bed by midnight.

But I screwed most of it up. I didn’t get out of bed in time to make going to the park for tai-chi practice a viable plan, so I went directly to the restaurant for lunch with Chenbl’s family to celebrate his father’s birthday. The food was delicious; it’s a new place, but we’ve been going to that place at its old location for years, and the cuisine fortunately survived the move. An immaculately dressed wedding engagement party had taken over most of the new place, which is bigger and brighter than the old one, though somewhat less cozy.

After lunch Chenbl and I took a bus over to Eslite’s Xinyi branch, where he went to look at travel books and I sat down and devoured not only Chang Chien-chi’s Jet Lag, but also Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Michel Frizot. Chang’s latest book paints a rather disconcerting picture of his life in recent years, lugging himself all over the world and hardly sleeping, inflicting a state of fraught hyper-reality to his work, as if the camera was infused with a mixture of caffeine and sleep medicine. It’s not a pleasant read, but it wasn’t meant to be; rather, it’s a hint of his experiences during that time. I realized while reading the text that the last time I met him was during that time, and it goes far in explaining the mood in which I found him at that point.

The Koudelka book was fascinating; I’m going to have to go back and read it again, if not buy it because I’m a cheap bastard and I already have too many books, including, of course, Exiles itself. It goes into mesmerizing detail concerning the photographer’s life and principles, as well as the conflict between him and more mainstream photographers, particularly at Magnum, who took assignments and had more conventional lives. Koudelka is a hero of mine, not just for his photographic work, but just the way he has managed to live his life. A bit of an exile myself in many ways, I could identify with much of what he was trying to describe, and over the years it has actually helped me deal with some of my feelings and issues on the subject.  Or, if not deal, at least appreciate his explorations of this most personal subject. In any case, it’s obvious that he has done a much better job.

The sun set over the city outside the floor-length windows as I read, sitting on the floor with the books on my lap. It was the best I’d felt in a long time, the most engaged, even though I was alone…or possibly because I was alone. I used to go to the original Eslite on Dunhua South Road all the time, staying up until all hours, of after a night on the town in those days of my feckless youth, to just sit and read, cello pieces playing softly on the store speakers. It’s gratifying that, especially after the demise of other bookstores such as the once-wonderful Page One, Eslite not only survives but thrives as a haven for those of us who need to escape for a short time.

 

But I couldn’t linger and read all night; I had to go meet up with the others for dinner near CKS Hall. It was good to see Eddie again, as well as the others. I lied to myself about going home early to get some sleep for work the next day; I might have gone to the jam at Sappho, gotten home at midnight and slept better than I ended up sleeping…or perhaps it would have been the same; in any case, something from the day was flying around, keeping me awake; I only got a few hours of sleep before dawn.

posted by Poagao at 12:31 pm  
Nov 19 2017

Photography never died

Lately the photography sphere has been inundated, not with the gazillions of photos everyone is talking about, but with article after article proclaiming that photography is dead/over/irrelevant/trash.

The questionable assumption here is that it was ever alive in the first place, but what puzzles me most is how this status has been defined. And it is about status in the end, because the reasons given for photography’s untimely (or exceedingly timely, depending on the source) demise are invariably centered around the rise of social media, short attention spans, instant sharing and, inevitably, cat pictures.

Yes, you.

However, in a world where so many photographer bios begin with “I began documenting the meaningful moments of my existence with my iPhone in 2009,” I wonder if some context is missing from this argument. The so-called “life” of photography referred to in these articles arose from the concurrent rise of digital cameras and the Internet in the 2000’s, resulting in an army of technology-minded dudes buying the latest megapixel box they’d seen get a gold star on dpreview so they could make sure every pixel was sharp before Photoshopping the living hell out of it (using the handy Living Hell slider), uploading it to Flickr or 500px and watching the Faves roll in.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. Obviously, a few of these people were, and remain, serious photographers with serious work. But the driving force behind this boom, this zombie “life”, was mainly hippishly whitebread men who worked in IT buying rather large cameras and showing their files to each other on rather small screens. Numbers ruled this phase of the game: numbers of faves/likes, numbers of followers, numbers of shots, no matter how awful the photos. One such dude in San Francisco (because of course it was some dude in San Francisco), made his only goal taking a million (completely unremarkable) shots, and he got quite a lot of attention from his considerable fandom.

I can’t remember his name for some reason.

During this time, the dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored for decades before the boom, continued working quietly and being ignored, though a handful got caught up in the storm and propelled to Internet stardom. Magnum, sitting suddenly up in its comfy chair and remembering its illustrious history, returned belatedly to the fore when they realized that their website needed an upgrade; they began changing their reporting and recruitment styles to suite the “life” of this new reality.  Skateboarding also factored in there somehow, because of course any old thing being subjected to rejuvenation must by law involve skateboarding.

I’ma let you finish, Henri, but…

So for a time, everyone was All About Photography, particularly “street” photography, which is the easiest to practice because it doesn’t require anything in the way of studios, sets, models, lights, conscious thought or, from looking at most of it, talent. Bloggers featured their friends in “The (insert number here)-best photographers RIGHT NOW”-type listicles, some of which became actual books. Publishers pole-vaulted onto this suddenly relevant bandwagon, and groups on Flickr appeared and thrived on the drama of clashes between personalities.

Amid all this, it must be admitted, some photographers did actually get to know about other photographers and enjoy each other’s work. Several collectives emerged from the chaos, e.g. in-Public, Burn My Eye, and Observe. Of course, many others promptly disappeared when they found out that ego clashes are far less entertaining when you’re actually trying to work together in some fashion.

“I’m sick of your excessive use of Photoshop sliders, Larry!”

But then Facebook and Instagram arrived on the scene, along with decent mobile phone cameras. These burgeoning businesses quickly realized that what the vast majority of people wanted out of all this was not actually photography, but rather that short sharp injection of dopamine that came with simply seeing something new. Clicks, but not those of the shutter variety. Eyeballs, but not through viewfinders or at exhibitions. Photography itself didn’t particularly matter to these industries; it never had. It was a means to an end, which inevitably means an end to the means.

Digital camera performance plateaued as manufacturers tried to make them more like mobile phones, cramming things like wifi, video and touchscreens into their machines and then wondering why nobody was buying their larger, heavier boxes. Computational mobile photography came to the fore, the camera boom waned; the party began to lose steam. Video was supposed to take over, but nobody could figure out the fundamental difference between the two media.

In any case, most people discovered they could get all their ego-driven drama needs from Facebook, and all their dopamine hits from Instagram, effectively severing the connection of conversation and photography that had been the accidentally advantageous side-effect of sites like Flickr, where you could do both, but not with the same rabid intensity. Some people tried to lure young would-be photographers into thinking they could “make it big” through competitions that they could only participate in after paying for the honor of consideration by their illustrious jury of people they’d never heard of. But then the world quickly learned that photography, like the cake, was a lie after it was found that many entrants in these contests were the result of applying a bit too much of the “Asshattery slider” in Photoshop.

The relationship between actual photography and social media was fraying; some would-be serious photographers desperate to hold onto these heady days tried spamming all their contacts about Kickstarter campaigns to fund their photo books. Precious few were any good. But then, truly good photo books have always been 1) few and far between and 2) generally ignored by most people.

And then, photography was dead, lying on the metaphorical sidewalk in a pool of its own metaphorical blood. You read it in an article by some famous Internet person with an impressive-sounding name. And then you read it again. And again. Dead. Over. Kaput.

Help! I’ve fallen out of favor with trendsetting demographics!

But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats.

Yay?

In short, the “death of photography” these articles lament is actually the loss of the veneer of popularity photography momentarily enjoyed when it was caught up in the perfect storm of technological progress and social media. The three were conflated so closely for a time that most people assumed that, when the latter two moved on, photography would be rendered meaningless. But that is a false narrative; the essence of photography hasn’t changed; it has always been, at its core, a small, largely ignored niche. Not something for everyone, nor the grand new universal language once promised to us. Photography’s unique and quirky nature of stopping time and conveying complex emotion in one small frame was one of the things that drew me to it when I was growing up, and it occurs to me that perhaps we should just let it be what it actually is, without all the trappings, the bells and whistles of social trends.

Put your glasses back on, photography. Lose the makeover. Put on those comfortable shoes. And welcome back.

Photography is dead? Good. Long live photography.

posted by Poagao at 12:38 pm  
Oct 24 2017

An extremely busy month

The second and final symposium of the Dadaocheng photography event was last Saturday, bringing to close the main events of this month. It has been a whirlwind of activity, with Chenbl and I arranging a three-gallery exhibition, a three-day international workshop with Burn My Eye, and the two symposiums, of course with the help of several dedicated student volunteers. I had no time for anything else, missing several shows with the Muddy Basin Ramblers as well as all my violin classes. My own community college photography classes were also put on hold, and I had to take some time off from work. I even neglected to visit my friends at the aborigine protest site as well as other friends I should have visited.

So how did it all go? In a word, swimmingly, with only a few snags. After wrestling with some rather non-professional printers in the run-up to the exhibition, we finally found a guy who did a great job for not a lot of money. He was very helpful as well, showing up and helping us hang the prints. The exhibition opening on the 1st was great; the venue was packed, and we enjoyed a few nice speeches before leading everyone to the second gallery and ending up at the third one, the BME exhibit at Le Zinc, in time for a nice evening get-together. Our exhibition space was later enriched by the presence of a sound art piece overseen by David Chen, made by Nigel Brown, Alice Chang and Yannick Dauby, providing a lovely audio experience to match the photos of the area. If, like me, you’re into ASMR, it’s even more interesting to listen to.

Next up was our workshop: I’d been a little worried about this because I’d never run such a large, international workshop before. Fortunately, fellow BME member Andy Kochanowski flew out early, arriving on the evening of the 3rd to get the lay of the land, and we spent hours walking around the area and mapping out a general direction for the various parts of the workshop over the next several days. Our other BME instructor, Junku Nishimura, flew in from Japan at noon on the 6th, followed by Rammy Narula from Thailand that evening, and we all got together for hotpot in Ximending that night. Both Andy and Junku were rocking film, Andy with his rare black Contax and Junku with his Leica M6, while Rammy sported the new M10. My old Sony, dinged and banged up so that it’s largely held together with duct tape at this point, definitely felt a little ragged in that crowd.

The workshop itself was a blast. I’d been praying for good weather, and we were fortunate to see all kinds of weather and light over the course of three days, from bright sunlight to misty rain to windy, almost typhoon-like conditions. The students were also able to see four very different styles of street photography between us, and though a little subdued in class as most Taiwanese students tend to be, were quite enthusiastic. We also had students from the U.S., Canada and Scotland, so it was quite an interesting mix of styles and commentary. Andy tended to do the most talking in the classroom, preferring to send students out on missions for outside work, whereas Rammy was a bit more hands-on outside. Junku was always around and offering advice, but he has always been a little shy, unless he is currently drinking you under the table at a karaoke bar. I was dividing my time between running the workshop, making sure no one got lost (in a bad way), watching students shoot and offering my opinions and suggestions when I felt it was necessary. After three days, we were happy to see impressive improvement from all of the students, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a great experience, and has made me more interested in doing more workshops in the future. A good third to half of BME’s current membership was actually involved in workshops in October, not just in Taipei but in Brussels and Barcelona as well.

The first of our symposiums was a talk by my friend Chang Liang-I, a longtime photojournalist, and the second was by another friend of mine, Ethan Chiang, who runs a popular street photography blog. Both were well-attended and full of useful advice and insights. Members of the audience had many questions, and the back-and-forth was fascinating at both gatherings.

So I count this event a great success, one that has hopefully raised awareness and appreciation for the idea and practices of street photography as well as photography in general in Taiwan, both on the part of the students as well as the instructors who were able to sample photography on the streets of this town I call home.

One thing I can’t stress enough is that I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of Chenbl and my student volunteers. Even after all of this, Chenbl went straight to another event with his company, with no break in between. I don’t know how he does it; that man is incredible. You can tell this from the fortitude with which he faced a snail crawling up his leg during the workshop, as photographed by Andy.

For myself, I’ve been taking it slow these few days; the weather seems to have decided it’s time for us all to wrap up and go inside, and the recent death of a friend has given these days a more serious tone as well. Our lives go on, in any case, until they don’t. But that’s all the more reason to do what we can while we’re here.

So here’s to the next thing: May it go well.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:59 pm  
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