Monthly Archives: November 2008

Doubleness: Photography of Chang Chien-Chi

hauntingly poignant

I have stumbled upon this exhibition quite unintentionally, while waiting to get something from a friend who was at the National Museum on Deepavali holiday. The exhibition poster- featuring a Chinese man digging into a bowl of noodles, on the fire escape above a busy street scene – seem interesting enough to warrant a diversion, and the free admission was a strong pull. The photographs are presented in a darkened space, with focused spotlights on each photograph in three selected voluminous series.

The three series by Chang Chien-Chi seem to affirm the point that photographs need to be appreciated in series, as his work speaks volume, more so than the individual images. Arranged as such, the photographs seems to reveal the photographer’s interest in dualities, capturing “contemporary societal issues such as arranged marriages, immigrant culture, love and alienation, hope and darkness, freedom and restriction”. The type of works could best be described as ‘photo journalism’, like Dorothea Lange, a renowned American photojournalist that brought us attention to the plight of migrant farmers and the failed Resettlement Administration in 1935, with Migrant Mother photographs.

The Chain series struck me as incredibly sad – large photographs of pairs of patients chained together. They could not be more isolated, despite being chained together, from the expressions on their faces and bodily gestures. That isolation, seem to be contrary to my understanding of human compassion and concept of humanity, but yet a rational mind would like to believe that the treatment, by chaining, ‘makes lives better’ for the patients and their families as it restricts the movement and opportunity for irrational mischief.

There is some similarity between a Newsweek photo essay by Eugene Richards, ‘No One Cares Much’, on a hospital in Hidalgo, Mexico, published September 8, 2008, pages 46-50. Both seem to capture the ambivalence of rational/irrational mind, the humane and inhumane treatment of the less sane and destitute. Lily Huang, in the text that acompanied the essay ended with: “Richards photographs speak loudly: They know not what they are. We know not what we do.”

Another photographer that comes to mind is Diana Arbus, and her Wizard of Odds series, because her photographic subjects have included circus freaks, nudists, mentally retarded adults, eccentrics, homeless people, orgiasts, and outcasts. Arbus’s subjects no doubt shock, as unconventional portraiture subjects. Like Arbus, Chang reveals ” … those very qualities that society seeks to hide: isolation, depression, discomfort, and vulnerability”.

We know not what we do may be the cause of hurried lives, where Darwin’s survival of the fittest mantra thrives as we let the destitutes of our societies out of our sight.

Similarly, the other two series Double Happiness and China Town seem reflect in a poetic manner, the insecurities, inequality of arranged marriages, some for convenience others for more reasons explicable, or the process of an immigrant adapting to a parasite urban environment. For a nation like Singapore formed from immigrants, and facing a significant immigrant flux ourselves, the photographs are fore-telling, reminders of the humanity we (need to) have.

Exhibition Gallery 1
October 10 – Jan 4, 2009
10am – 6pm

admission charges apply.