A Magnum Photographer’s Forthcoming Book Captures a Life of Frequent Travel
Magnum Photos photographer Chien-Chi Chang meditates on the meaning of interstitial space in his forthcoming book Jet Lag. With the turn of each page, richly-toned silver gelatin prints capture a medley of objects and sensations inspired by travel. A philosophy of migration emerges that is neither completely wondrous nor wholly alienating, but a mysterious amalgamation of the two.
Chang’s past projects have included portraits of inmates at a mental asylum in Taiwan, a series exploring a bride-selling business in Vietnam, and a 23-year-long investigation of New York’s Chinatown. In the spirit of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chang captures fleeting moments in time with heartbreaking poetic detail.
The stark black-and-white photograph, Vienna International Airport (2010), that appears on the book cover reads like an X-ray. A dramatic long exposure results in spindles of starlight that unravel across the night sky alongside synthetic light that skids along the bottom of the image, archiving the movement of motor vehicles and airplanes traveling across the landing strip. A blurry, half-moon arc stretches over the frame—either a reflection of the camera lens or the result of looking outward from a plane window. Though this book features scant human presence, it is indeed a human story: one of interior revelation and emotional reflection.
The television that appears in Yangoon (2010), presumably situated in a hotel room, glows brightly—a testament to Chang’s ability to draw out long exposure times. The effect is striking. Not only does the burst of light erase any human presence from the screen, but it strips the environment of much of its detailed context. Curtains billowing eerily on either side of the television are the sole suggestion of movement or figurative detail in the frame.
Taipeh (2008) makes up for Yangoon’s omission of details. The mise-en-scène: stacks of foreign currencies, a cell phone, a pill container, Chinese and American passports, a Toblerone bar, and a set of keys. This tableau tells a transcontinental story—one that the viewer soon realizes is autobiographical (a photo ID of the artist appears center-left). The specificity of subject and diaristic tone that the image employs may seem surprising in comparison with the other photographs that appear in this book.