From The Shadows

Posted by on Nov 10, 2014 in essays, Taiwan | 2 Comments
From The Shadows

A simple Google image search, of Taiwan culture, was the inspiration for this essay. The results where void of any culture at all, mere caricatures of the Taiwanese people and their history. With these photographs, I've tried to capture the simple lifestyle found in Pingtung County. It's a region in southern Taiwan, with an economy based on agriculture and fisheries. Although there are beach resorts on the coast, this is not a popular destination for international travelers. Pingtung remains in the shadows of modern development taking place to the north. This sentiment is expressed in a local idiom, zhan wei bao shuai, which means, “At the end of the line, all is languid.”

location: Pingtung, Taiwan
date: 2013 - 2014


  1. Paul Martin
    December 1, 2014


    It’s always a pleasure to look at your photographs, and it’s always a pleasure to see a foreign culture through educated and sympathetic eyes. So this is a double pleasure indeed!

    The great benefit of an educated (in the sense of local familiarity) foreigner as a guide is that we get the best of both worlds: insight into the soul of the culture, and understanding of what will most comprehensibly depict that essence for a less educated foreign audience. So what we get is a more elegantly poised narrative than could be delivered by a genuine local, and also a more textural and reflective view than could be offered by a casual tourist.

    Let’s talk pure photography first. These are all the flawless, visually literate B&W images for which I’ve ‘known’ you all these years – but that said, I still say that you’re getting better at it all the time. The photography is so clear and pure that it can come only from a deep passion for the craft of photography, and comfort in that place. The subliminal message I get is that not one technical aspect is forced, nor contrived. It’s effortless craftsmanship, and I don’t think you (Henry) could now do it any other way. So like a writer who has mastered the tool kit of language and its usage, and for whom the words no longer get in the way, for you the photography no longer gets in the way.

    And that leads to the next dimension, which is artistry. The conversion of craft into art.

    The choices you’ve made in terms of subjects, points-of-view and composition are very satisfying for your audience. There’s variation, conventional, unexpected, contrasting, refreshing; all the beautifully structured sequences and sensations that one would experience in one of those fabulous Asian meals composed of many tiny courses.

    So I say there’s two levels of artistry in this essay. The obvious one is the artistry of the photographs individually. The less obvious but ultimately more appreciated one is the effect of your having orchestrated a feast of many tiny courses, all connected, directly and indirectly; all dependent on the others for the proper appreciation of their full flavor and texture.

    The fact that you know all this, and that you intended the effect, is evident especially in your final course of a fish in a water glass. That’s the very kind of surprise exclamation point that a great Asian chef is likely to present to his guests as his final course.

    It’s a beautiful essay Henry. Enjoyable on every level from the superficial to the considered to the theatrical. And I suppose I must now say to the gastronomic too. It’s professional standard stuff; actually quite a bit better than the usual professional photo essay in this cultural/sociological vein.

    A wonderful start to our month of essays. Thank you.

  2. Don Zirilli
    January 1, 2015

    for some reason I don’t want the third photo of the barbershop. It just seems too much like other barbershop photos and not part of this essay.

    that’s my only downer, and of course if I were simply seeing this essay in a magazine or somesuch I would quickly glide past that photo and not let it bother me. After that, I love what you did with the square format and the transitions between photos (potatoes to a man’s face, sprouts to leaves to geese to windows, the cat with a false tail to the man with no head). The last photo is also jarring, but that’s probably a good thing. A nice slap to get me out the door.


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