The Native Gaze
On Chang-ling’s Photography
Text by Jason Chung Tang Yen
“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography The above quote by Sontag applies ingeniously to Chang-ling’s artistic practice. Both as a painter and photographer, Chang-ling’s photos disclose a mutual narrative along with his painted oeuvre, on daily life, on the human psyche, on memories, and a poetic tableau that examines the society from an alluring vantage point. In his series titled The Native Gaze, the Taiwanese artist zooms out of the frame to cross-examine ideas of individuality through a sequence of images composed of emotions, symbolisms, and elements of an abstract sojourn that is life. The Native Gaze discloses the most intimate and innate subjects of reality on an internal level. The seemingly lonely karaoke singer, the weary pedicab driver, and street vendors, all serve as a mirror like reflection upon humanity that incite deliberation on a collective identity. Chang-ling’s methodology is effortlessly precise and subtle, he touches on poignant topics of homeland, national identity, and the sense of belonging in a way that is not overtly nostalgic nor melancholic. His powerful imagery gets under the viewer’s skin and incite evocative epiphanies that lingers on for a duration that surpasses simple images from daily life, it is the minutiae from banality that form a complete structure of his oddly enchanting chronicles. “There is not love of life without despair about life.”
― Albert Camus, The Stranger In the series, the artist uses a conceptual chiaroscuro to show the positives of life by contrasting on the dark corners, alluding to Camus’ quote from The Stranger. A seemingly innocuous seascape at night, is a prelude to clandestine criminal activities not disclosed but existing in the backdrop; challenging the spectators’ imagination to deduce the truth. At a festive gathering, a girl glances back, the setting is purely local and ordinary, surprisingly and coincidentally timeless, resonating to atmospheres of Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, Picasso’s Le Moulin de la Galette, and Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. This iconoclast of coexistence of classic and contemporary features is the composition of the soul of the series.
Outside a love motel, the audience ponders whether or not to enter into a wild night of carnal desires. Or more so, contemplating the emptiness of loveless sex in spite of the fact that the character for love is carved out on the window. Perhaps after a night of liberation, the voyage continues into the rice fields of redemption, the ray of sun drops gently onto the motorcyclist, the serenity makes you question your life and what it really means. Then as the sun sets, you go onto a street market, the familiar face warms the heart of a food vendor, the artist’s sweet childhood memories suddenly found its way through inception. An indescribable warmth flows through. Then there is a lonely elderly woman, her cold and small silhouette battling the army of ghost like clothes at ridiculously cheap prices paint a bizarrely grotesque picture. There is an invisible heaviness that’s bestowed upon the observer. The Native Gaze serves collectively as a body of works that examine the human condition in dialogue with Chang-ling’s paintings. In a way, his photography answers questions proposed by his paintings. This disclosure carefully crafted a cosmos of complex sentiments, that serve as an inseparable part of the artist’s philosophy of raison d'être across his nonchalant yet affectionate lens.