Tracing Stains in Namaxia

by on Wednesday, 27 April 2011 5848 hits Comments
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Chen Po-I (Bi Bi) won his first photography award in 1996, the Hua Deng Young Photographer’s Award in Tainan, and since then he has won almost a dozen others. Due to his passion, Bibi eventually suffered from CTS (Carpal tunnel syndrome) in his wrist, brought on by long-term holding of cameras for which he had release surgery in 2008 to get the compressed wrist nerve removed. Yet, following his surgery he was still obsessively engaged in photography and his interest turning towards Taiwan after the hit of Typhoon Morakot, from which he says "I find the unbeaten vitality of Taiwanese society."

While most young people go to the ruins for a sense of thrill, danger and the freedom privided by these independent anarchic spaces with no owners, Bibi prefers to approach the buildings as an archaeologist. He explains that accross the globe there are several types of ruin: Chernobyl style, where due to manmade disasters, a whole area is evacuated and left for generations; New Orleans style, caused by natural disasters, where after a few years humans begin to rebuild; finally, the temporary ruins which emerge during the process of urban renewal are the most common type of ruin.

One tyoe which is more common in Taiwan than elsewhere are ruins caused by natural disasters. In 2009, during Typhoon Morakot, the great storm, a mountain mudslide left the community of Nansha-lu (南沙魯) or Namaxia (那嗎夏) in pieces, with 10 people confirmed perished and 32 missing in the mudslides. After the accident, the government began cleaning out the houses in preparation for the excavators being brought in. Before they were demolished Bibi went with his camera to capture the remains. In the resulting photo collection, Bibi was particularly interested by the traces, the mudstains left on the wall and the story this interprets. For example he asked, why did the original owner not return to live in one of the houses? Because four neighbours corpses were discovered in the living room of their house. There were ten people in the family, nine of them drowned in the disaster. The only survivor was a 5th grade child, who was thrown on to the roof of another building further below, where he was stuck before eventually the slides relinquished. The family could thus not return because the spirits of their neighbours were trapped within these walls.

Though the mud in Namaxia was eventually dug out by the military, his photo records show the depth of the mudslides in the house.  Even Bibi was far shorter than the level the mud reached on the wall. If he had been there at the time, he probably would have perished as well. Bibi feels that questions of social justice are also raised here. The governments reaction to these type of accidents is to opt for the easy way out, but also the least respectful and culturally understanding. They decide that the best way is purely to move all the aborigines to the cities, where their culture would simply be overrun and lost in the urban sea. The mountain community is their home, their culture and their way of life. The government should instead help these communities find safer ways to continue living as communities in the mountains.

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The photos in this article were a part of Chen Po-I's work 'Morakot Nanshalu'. Text by Nicholas Coulson.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:33
Chen Po-I

Born in 1972 in Taiwan.
My interest in photography initiated very early in 1987 when I was a high school student. I was a member of astronomy club and, therefore, got a chance to involve myself in filming astrophotography. From then on, I acquired some basic photographic and darkroom developing skills. Thereafter I continued studying photography in university in 1992 with Mr. Liu Yong-Tai whose erudite knowledge in documentary photography, artistic photography and natural photography laid great influence on me. In 1997, when in graduate school, I went on studying photography with Mr. Huang Jian-Liang. Under his influence and encouragement I read extensively other photographers' works specially those from the States, Japan and Germany and, hence, I assured my artistic pathway in photography. In 2005 I started filming some fishing villages or military dependents'village where the intensive city regeneration was underway. 

Through the lens to see so many unused buildings or abandoned houses, I captured images of ruins and stories belonging to previous occupants and thereupon I found myself a source of the critique of civilization, the reflection of mass consumption and the ode of decadents. The long-term camera-holding gesture brought my wrist CTS (Carpal tunnel syndrome) which led to the release surgery in 2008 to get the compressed wrist nerve removed. Even so, I am still obsessively engaged in photography and since 2009 I have evinced my interest in filming Taiwan after the hit of Typhoon Morakot from which I find the unbeaten vitality of Taiwanese society.

我的攝影是在1987 年高中時期參加天文社時開始的,一般的攝影與暗房的操作技術都是在這個時期建立下來的,在1992 年上大學才開始接觸專題攝影,受啟蒙老師劉永泰的影響拍照的專題非常廣泛有紀實攝影與美術攝影和生態攝影等,在1997 年研究所時期才進一步受黃建亮先生的影響不斷地接受國外的攝影資訊,至此才奠定我從事攝影藝術創作的信念,在2002 年開始閱讀各國攝影的脈絡其中包含美國、日本與德國。

2005 年,我開始有計畫地拍攝都市更新政策下的眷村與漁村,透過這些閒置空間與遺留物,我讀到一則則他人的故事,並將這些廢墟影像作為對文明的批判,或是對消費主義的反省,也有對頹廢美學的謳歌。由於長期於廢墟中手持相機拍攝,導致雙手罹患腕隧道症候群(Carpal tunnel syndrome),在2008 年動手術將壓迫神經的組織給切除,雖然如此,我依然著迷於拍攝多樣的台灣文化表徵,2009 年,我開始著手拍攝莫拉克颱風Typhoon Morakot 破壞後的台灣,試著從天然災害中的廢墟,展現台灣社會的韌性與勇氣。

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