Contemplating the nature of human bonds and societal ties, Chien-Chi Chang's sombre monochrome photographs portray inmates from a mental asylum chained together in pairs, ostensibly as part of their "revolutionary" therapy.
Freedom and constraint, love and alienation, compassion and shame are some of the complex issues that define the ambiguous relationships between Chang's captured subjects and the outside world. Considered social misfits and a disgrace to their kin, the pictured men were consigned by their relatives to Lung Fa Tang, a Buddhist sanctuary and Taiwan's largest chicken farm with a workforce of nearly 700 mentally ill inhabitants. There is a general lack of understanding of mental illness in Taiwanese society and no comprehensive support system to care for the mentally ill. Consequently, despite having no resident psychiatrist at Lung Fa Tang, Hieh Kai Feng claims that it provides a much-needed relief for the community, alleviating the huge burden placed on his patient's families.
Physically linked by a small chain around their waists, day in day out, only unlocked for sleeping, the more stable of the two is supposed to assist the less lucid in their daily chores. With their ties to society severed but bound by the "chain of compassion" to one another, the interactions between the paired outcasts can only be fraught. As Chang comments: The most pathetic part is that once the two are chained together, they are forever incapable of fighting against it. Their only alternative is to become submissive, to give in, or they will never walk out of that place.
Visiting the asylum over a period of six years, Chang took the present photographs in one session, asking them to pose after lunch on their way back to work. By positioning his subjects as if on stage in front of a plain dark background, he transcends the photojournalist mode, and with this transforms his images into a cipher for the human condition per se.
Chien-Chi Chang was born in Taiwan in 1961 and studied at Soochow University and Indiana University. His work has been widely published and in 1999 he was awarded the Visa d'Or for magazine photography in Perpignan and the W. Eugene Smith Memorial fund for Humanistic Photography. A member of Magnum Photos since 1996, he lives in Taipei and New York.
The book "The Chain" is available throughout the exhibition priced along with a limited edition signed book which includes a Platinum print. Both are published by Trolley.
"The Chain" is a Magnum Photos touring exhibition in association with Ffotogallery, Wales. Printed by Ptosi, London.
Exhibition: 11 March - 23 April 2005
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