Primarily a street photographer, Chang Chao-Tang’s work has been described as prophetic, and a modernist reflection of an absurd reality. His approach is a synthesis of western surrealism and existentialism with Chinese ideology. Chang began taking pictures as a teenager in high school and much of his work reveal the irony of life and death. In his interview with Taipei Biennal 2012, Chang says his imagery depict loss, finding affinity with Taiwan’s Lost Generation. He also says political references to the social impact of Taiwan’s 4 decades of martial law as interpreted by audiences are indirect. His photography represent more ‘a status concerning life and human beings, a status of being self’. invisiblephotographer.asia
“Wherever you go, you’re at the scene.” As a high school student, Chang Chao-Tang picked up his camera and began to shoot, and he has not stopped since. His images reveal transcendence amidst the commonplace, intimacy amidst alienation, humor amidst the absurd. They reflect the photographer’s acute observations and earnest understanding, his substantial concern and empathy. His career spanning more than 50 years has encompassed photography, television programs, documentary films and dramas. His works not only feel the pulse of his age, but are also far-reaching witnesses to history. He is the recipient of several major awards, including the Golden Bell (1976), the National Award for Arts (1999) and the National Cultural Award (2011). He has curated exhibitions and taught courses on photography and film. He has organized, edited and written books on Taiwanese photographers and photography. With unflagging dedication, he has worked to pass on, build up and promote the legacy of both still photography and motion pictures, guiding the less experienced, making considerable contributions and casting a long shadow in his field.
From 1962 to 1965, Chang Chao-Tang was deeply inspired by such Western artistic movements as surrealism, existentialism and Theater of the Absurd. In his photos, images of blurriness, decapitation and incapacitation began to well up spontaneously. They were set in the high mountains, the barrens, derelict landscapes or on the balconies of high-rises. Close-ups of trauma would suddenly appear on a road or in a bed. If he wasn’t painting white makeup on his friends’ faces, he was covering them with plastic bags, shaking the camera or shooting out of focus, producing a strange, absurd, desolate sense of drama. These images seemed to imply a “posture,” a “statement” – a rediscovery of the body, a return to the self, an embrace of nihilism. He described himself in that era as a lone wolf, opening the window in the middle of the night to howl at the outside world. His works in this period laid the foundation for the aesthetic and style of Chang’s images. As he later noted: “I seem to have never brushed aside the existential feeling I grasped from the emptiness and barrenness of modernism. It’s always dogged me to the present day.”
Chang’s first comprehensive retrospective solo exhibition, Time: The Images of Chang Chao-Tangpresents over 400 works of photography from 1959 to today (including contact prints, a series of previously unreleased portraits, and a set of images taken from digital cameras and cell phones), as well as eight documentaries and television episodes. It also features two “exhibitions within an exhibition,” replicating two highly experimental installations from the 1960s which he released as part of the exhibitions Modern Poetry and Formless. Also presented are a number of original photographic works, drawings, scribblings, notes and collages; articles, books and other documents on Taiwanese photographers which he edited; and photography exhibition posters…. Together they comprise a complete picture of Chang Chao-Tang’s aesthetic and achievements in image art, documenting the position he occupies relative to both his predecessors and his successors, and his important contributions to the development of Taiwanese photography and film.
The chronological order and content of the exhibited works have been grouped into six major themes: “Images of Youth, 1959-1961“; “Existential Voices, 1962-1965“; “Installations, Scribblings and Original Works, 1966-1986“; “Social Memory / Inner Landscapes, 1970-2005“; “Digital Quest, 2005-2013“; and “Faces in Time, 1962-2013.” A catalogue will be published in connection with the exhibition.