National Center of Photography Opens With ‘Hold the Mirror up To His Gaze’

National Center of Photography Opens With ‘Hold the Mirror up To His Gaze’
Photo Credit: Syrena Lin

What you need to know

“Hold the Mirror up to His Gaze” explores the “first page of Taiwan’s photography” in the mid-20th century.

The National Center of Photography and Images (NCPI) will be open to the public on April 20 with an exhibition exploring the early history of photography in Taiwan.

The NCPI is located in a Japanese colonial era building near Taipei Main Station. Designed by the architect Setsu Watanabe and completed in 1937, the building was originally the Taipei branch of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha, a Japanese shipping company. It was one of the last few reinforced concrete structures built during World War II.

After the war, the building was taken over by the shipping company Taiwan Navigation Corporation and the Taiwan Provincial Highway Bureau. In 2014, it was designated as a city monument by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Taipei City Government and was eventually given to the Ministry of Culture and chosen as the site of the NCPI.

The gallery is Taiwan’s first national institution tasked with the collection, research, exhibition, and promotion of photography and image-based art pieces. It is part of the “National Photographic Assets Rescue and National Photographic Cultural Center Establishment Project” initiated in 2015 by the Ministry of Culture.

“Although it is a bit late, at least we have started,” said Deputy Minister of Culture Hsiao Tsung-huang at the opening press conference. The Center also aims to connect Taiwan with the international art scene.

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Photo Credit: Syrena Lin

“Hold the Mirror up to His Gaze” is one of the first exhibitions at the NCPI, which opened to press and invited guests on March 24. It explores the “first page of Taiwan’s photography” in the mid-20th Century through the angle of photographic techniques, colonial history, and modernization. It is also the first large-scale exhibition featuring Taiwan’s historical images, according to the curator Lin Hong-john.

The “mirror” is a metaphor for photography and “his gaze” refers to the audience’s view. The idea came from John Thomson, a late 19th century Scottish photographer who documented his travels in Taiwan. In his memoir, he wrote, “I have endeavored to impart to the reader some share in the pleasure which I myself experience in my wanderings; but, at the same time, it has been my care so as to hold the mirror up to the gaze.”

“I think that all photos involve relationships like this. Who took the photo, who is in the photo, and who is viewing the photo are all very important,” Lin explained.

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Photo Credit: Syrena Lin

The exhibition displays over 600 photos taken from 1869 to 1949, from the Qing Dynasty to Japanese colonial era, along with research projects of nine contemporary artists as supplements to the exhibited photographs.

“What I want to demonstrate is that photography is part of our everyday life, so I see this exhibition as a cross-section of life. When I was picking the photos, I picked them from many different aspects, not out of artistry. My goal is to present life during the period with images,” Lin told The News Lens.

“When I knew that I was given the task to plan a grand opening exhibition of this center, I thought it was important to ‘claim our subjectivity.’ There is not much attention paid to this topic internationally, but as Taiwanese, we need to care about it,” said Lin.

“A Handful of Dust: from the Cosmic to the Domestic” is the other opening exhibition of the NCPI organized by the renowned British curator and image researcher David Campany. Featuring the work of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, “A Handful of Dust” explores the complex relationship between photography and art in the early 20th Century. The two exhibitions are on view until mid-summer.

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Photo Credit: Syrena Lin

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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