October 8, 2008 / 8:34 AM / 10 years ago

Renowned Taiwan photographer inspired by loneliness

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Surrounded by black and white photographs under soft yellow lights, Chang Chien-Chi resembles the images he takes: simple and quiet.

The Taiwan-born photographer, who splits his time between New York and Taiwan, has won numerous accolades for his stills that capture themes of alienation, immigrant culture and separation.

Chang was in Singapore this week to promote a photography exhibition where 130 of his photos from three collections: “The Chain,” “China Town” and “Double Happiness,” will be on display from Oct 10 to Jan 4 at the National Museum of Singapore.

Chang started out in the 1990s as a photojournalist working at U.S. newspapers. His thoughtful, humanistic approach to the art landed him an invitation to join an exclusive photographer fraternity Magnum Photos, co-founded by famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, in 1995.

“We are saturated with images; someone said this once before: You cannot change what’s happening but you can at least document what’s changing,” Chang told Reuters in an interview.

In his late forties, the softspoken self-confessed loner said he identifies closely with his subjects and seeks to document their lives through the viewfinder.

His collection, “China Town,” captures the sense of alienation and marginalization felt by Chinese immigrants living in New York City. Echoing his own sense of displacement, his work also traces the lives of the families left behind in China.

“A lot of my inspiration has to do with angst and alienation, probably because of my experience in the States,” Chang said. In one of his black and white stills, a Chinese immigrant in his underwear talks on the telephone while he receives a form of traditional Chinese acupressure.

The juxtaposition of the cramp living conditions faced by the immigrants and the broad entrances which frame his shots of their families in China, evoke both pity and comfort in the viewer.

“I’m sort of a messenger between the families. Often times whenever they know I’m going back to their hometown, they ask me to bring stuff for their families,” he said.

Chang, who won first place in the daily life category of the prestigious World Press Photo competition, said he adopts a disciplined approach to taking photos, usually pressing only once or twice to get a shot right.

“I’m often alone, everywhere. Sometimes it’s very difficult to push the shutter.”

Reporting by Melanie Lee

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