PHOTO STORY: The Iron Tracery Culture of Taiwan

PHOTO STORY: The Iron Tracery Culture of Taiwan
Photo Credit: Yang Yi (楊翊)
What you need to know

They were once a decoration with more than 100 patterns and could be custom-made. But handmaking a tracery was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, so factories started using machines for production, making the once intricate embellishments stale and identical.

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Words by Olivia Yang
Images by Yang Yi (楊翊)

Walking down the streets of Taiwan one is bound to come across one, or even a whole cluster, but hardly anyone stops to admire them. If someone does pause, it might be to comment on how much better the cities might look without them.

Yes, we’re talking about iron traceries.

Taiwanese started installing traceries as precautions against theft in the 1970s; it also symbolized the booming economy and prosperity of Taiwanese society. They were a decoration with more than 100 patterns and could be custom-made. But handmaking traceries was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, so factories started using machines for production, making the once intricate embellishments stale and identical.

To this day, many people complain about how traceries ruin the beauty of cities. Some suggest removing them; with electronic home alarm systems traceries are seen as unnecessary.

But there have also been attempts to rekindle admiration for the once-popular decorations.

Tracery of Taiwan, a team of three designers, are using these gradually disappearing craftsmanship in their furniture designs. The team’s use of the traditional technique of bending metal on modern furniture was awarded the Red Dot Design Award: Best of the Best in 2015.

Yang Yi (楊翊), 27, is a freelance graphic designer. She started photographing Taiwan’s iron traceries about three years ago.

“I remember my dad once told me the streets hold the most abundant and interesting sceneries,” says Yang. “As long as you observe closely, you will cultivate a perspective different from others.”

She discovered that iron traceries were common in the streets of Taiwan, and the more attention she paid, the more beautiful designs Yang found.

“I get so excited when I come across a design I have never seen before,” says Yang.

Through photographing iron traceries, the designer has also found passion in taking photos of her surroundings, from houses to entire streets.

“Observing my surroundings has helped me think about and experience life in different ways,” says Yang. “Turning onto a random street you might find yourself facing a beautiful corner. If you don’t document it, you might never have the chance to see it again.”

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All photos are courtesy of Yang Yi (楊翊) and may not be reproduced without permission.

Editor: Edward White