Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 24 2013


During my lunch break yesterday, I hauled a framed print of one of my photos onto a bus headed for the eastern part of town, getting off at Yanji Street. At the feet of a towering apartment block, I called three times before Huang Bo-ji answered.

I’ve known Dr. Huang for a while now, after meeting him at a series of local photography symposiums. He’s the photographer who took one of my favorite shots ever, “Swordsmen”, which depicts two boys play-swordfighting underneath Japanese swordsmen movie billboards next to a bridge in Sanchong in 1965. The scene is a wonderful depiction of the intersection of reality and fantasy as well as a portrait of the spirit of those times. After finding that I was a fan of that shot after a photography talk I gave recently, Dr. Huang generously offered a print exchange, as he was a fan of one of my shots of a television repairman in southern Taiwan.

swordsmenAt around 80 years old, Dr. Huang still practices medicine. “I like to keep busy,” he said. It’s definitely paid off, I noticed when he invited me into his spacious apartment, all the more impressive for its Ren-ai Road address. His living room features an impressive collection of classical LP’s, but his television is modern. He brought out one of the few remaining copies of his photography book, “Reflections on Days Gone By“, which features mostly work from the 50’s to the 70’s. We went through each photo, and I took the opportunity to ask him every question I could think of, such as where the photos were taken, who the people were, what they were doing, what he was doing, if he talked to them, his shooting habits, etc. It was wonderful to be able to hear the stories behind the shots, to gain insight not only into his experiences, but Taiwan at that period of time as well. Dr. Huang was critical of the printing of the book, and took out his own prints to show how the photos should have looked had the printer done his job better. His prints did indeed look much better, with more contrast. The photos included the smokestacks of factories at Yingge (“It smelled awful,” Dr. Huang said), a family picnicking on a median in the just-opened Minquan East Road, and even some from the Southern Airport area I visited and wrote about recently, and showed some of the old apartment buildings, the first of their kind to be built in Taipei, just after they were constructed. The structures stuck out of the surrounding rice fields and shanties in a most incongruous fashion. It was amazing.

It does seem a bit sad that Dr. Huang didn’t pursue photography exclusively; it’s obvious that once he became well-known in medical circles that his photography dropped off. But then again, had he done so, chances are that he wouldn’t be where he is today.

As a special treat, Dr. Huang brought out the old Nikon Fs he used to shoot the photos. He uses digital cameras today, but the old cameras still work, and it was great to handle and take a few shots with them, as they weren’t loaded. Makes me wish I’d kept my first camera, a Pentax K1000.

Dr. Huang liked the print I’d brought, and was talking about where he’d like to hang it as I gathered my things up; I had to get back to work, but after I bade him farewell, I couldn’t help but take a stroll down Ren-ai Road, at least as far as the traffic circle. The office, I felt, could wait.

posted by Poagao at 5:45 pm  

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