Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is holding a special exhibition of 247 precious pictures taken by 114 famed photographers dating from from 1871 to 2011. The exhibition, titled “Eye of the Times: Centennial Images of Taiwan,” spans 140 years and is divided into three periods: the Qing Dynasty (1871-1895), the Japanese rule (1895-1949), and the R.O.C. in Taiwan (1949-2011).
It opens with a photo of Fort Zeelandia, Formosa in 1871 – now known as Anping Fortress, Tainan, Taiwan taken by Scottish travel photographer John Thomson on his first visit to Taiwan in 1871. It is believed to be the earliest well-kept image in the history of Taiwanese photography. After visiting southern Fujian in China, Thomson went to Taiwan by ship with James Laidlaw Maxwell, the first Presbyterian missionary to the island in 1865. They arrived in Dagou (now Kaohsiung) in early April 1871 and from Liouguei in Kaohsiung, headed north to Muzha in Taipei. Thomson took many photos of landscapes, rivers, valleys, harbors and indigenous tribes, especially the Pingpu, on the west of the island.
But before Thomson’s trip to the island, St. Julien Edwards active in Xiamen in the late 19th century was likely to be the first photographer to visit Maxwell’s mission in southern Taiwan, but unfortunately his pictures were not handed down.
Another Presbyterian missionary George Leslie Mackay came to southern Taiwan from Canada in 1871. The following year he arrived in Danshui, northern Taiwan, with Rev. Hugh Richie and Dr. Matthew Dickson to start their missionary work because of Maxwell’s suggestion. Well-known and remembered in Taiwan for his outstanding contributions to the religious, educational and medical fields, Mackay married a local woman in 1878 and settled in Taiwan – his home for the rest of his life.
He established a number of important institutions that exist today. They include the Mackay Hospital; the Danshui Girl’s School, the first school for girls in Taiwan; and the Oxford College, now part of Aletheia University, Danshui. Practicing medicine in northern Taiwan, Mackay used a pair of pliers to help local people pull out their decayed teeth. In the exhibition, one picture collected by Aletheia University shows the missionary pulling a patient’s tooth in Danshui on an unknown day.
Chuang Ling, a veteran photographer and one of the exhibition’s curators, believes that through those photographers’ lenses, viewers can get a better understanding of early and modern Taiwan at the museum.
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