CHANG Chien-Chi was born in Taiwan in 1961. He graduated from the Department of English Language and Literature, Soochow University in 1984 and received a master’s degree in education from the Indiana University in the US in 1990. Chang knew nothing about photography until he was 27. But since the day he was introduced to photography, it has become all that he cares about career-wise. Chang was the winner of a national college photography competition in the United States in 1990 and became a professional photo journalist in 1991. After several years of hard effort, he became Magnum Photos Inc.’s only member from Taiwan. Magnum is extremely selective when it comes to approving membership. This shows how achieved he is and how thought-provoking his photos are. For Taiwan, he is also a crucial pioneer in bringing contemporary documentary photography and contemporary art together. Chang has received major prizes around the world, such as the First Place, Daily Life, World Press Photo, Amsterdam, and the 20th Annual W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography.
The Chain I, The Chain II
Since 1992, CHANG Chien-Chi started working on this series by observation at fieldwork level, in the Hall of Dragon Metamorphoses, Luzhu district, Kao Hsiung County, where the patients suffering mental illness were uniquely treated with folk therapy. These patients are chained in pairs so to confine their behavior in daily life and working environment. The chains thus stand out as a symbol in this context, which expressed by the photographer in a simple, incisive composition, and attracted high social attention when it was first exhibited. Until today, the humanity and criticism involved still deeply touches the viewers.
Chang’s career as a photographer started on the island of Taiwan. He walked into the Hall of Dragon Metamorphoses, a private religious psychiatric institution in Luzhu Township, Kaohsiung in 1992, as a participant and an observer. This is the first time he approached mentally disordered people. While he spent time with them, “chain” as a symbol-object caught his attention. A folk-Buddhist group, the Hall of Dragon Metamorphoses developed a special quasi-medical treatment for the patients. They used a chain to tie a patient to a monk or a staff so that the patient could learn socially acceptable behaviors from the latter. Chang jumps out of the traditional documentary photography framework, showing the restricted bodies and lives of these pairs of people through a succinct, poignant composition. His works aim to deliver certain concepts and content, and from this he has developed a special approach that integrates reality and one’s perceptions. Chang has never ceased to observe humanity and the marginalized people. His photos capture the symbolic moments of truths, inspiring viewers to reflect on, to criticize, and to read social ethics.
Even after releasing Chains, Chang still keeps an eye on the lives of the marginalized. Photographing these people not only requires long-term effort but also high ethical standards. It is always painful to observe the pain of others, but for a documentary photographer, observation is not even enough. The photographer must emphasize with his or her subjects deeply and carefully. On great example of such empathy can be found in Chang’s work. In 1998, Chang was invited by TIME to make a special report on illegal immigrants in the China Town, New York. The photos came out, causing such a big stir that the American government eventually agreed to perform legal investigations over the rights of these migrant laborers.
Between 2003 and 2009, Chang documented contract marriages between Taiwanese men and Vietnamese women. These females are called by the Taiwanese public as “foreign brides.” He went to the frontline of crossnational human migration, capturing some of the most crucial humanistic moments out of highly repetitive scenes. The subjectivity of his subjects has not been homogenized under the camera lens. Rather, these people have even been given a proactive role - the narrator.
CHANG Chien-Chi’s photos always demonstrate humanitarian concerns and a critical view against social injustice, not matter they are about homeless people and mental patients, or the journey of North Korean defectors. Although he doesn’t think there is a fixed style in his photos, nor does he stick to a certain photography method, he has indeed tried to find the best way to reveal experiences of a greater whole, so that he can speak for certain people who face certain difficulties. His photos not only respond to many contemporary issues. They offer a down-top perspective through which one can see how power can be structured domestically and cross-nationally, and how it leaves marks on the minority’s bodies and souls. In this light, we see that CHANG Chien-chi has truly established a methodology for contemporary documentary photography, and that he has personally worked hard to make contagious yet rational images through this methodology.
|English title：||The Chain I|
|Medium / Classification：||Photography|
|Dimensions：||158×107 cm×20 pieces|
|Collection Unit：||Collection of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum|
|Contact method for authorization：||
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
|Related Exhibition：||"The Pioneers" of Taiwanese Artists, 1961-1970|