“It is much like keeping a diary. I want to remind myself of what happened, what my thoughts, feelings, and ideas were in all those moments passed, and so I continue to take photographs. My photographs are my memories – it’s about the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen. I think photography is all about the life of anyone who chooses to practise it.”
A native of the countryside of central Taiwan’s Taichung county, the hopeful adolescent Manbo Key had every intention of becoming an accomplished painter. Stumbling instead into photography, with several successes and after further exploration, the well-spoken artist admits that photography is his current form of reflection, an essential step to other forms of expression.
What is the most beautiful photograph you’ve seen in your entire life?
MANBO: After all these cameras have become quite accessible to the general public, people have lost track of how to enjoy the present. I do think there are a lot of beautiful photos out there, though there’s always going to be something more beautiful. For me, there is no such thing as the most beautiful photo and, besides, the best optical representations are seen out there when no photographs are being taken.
That’s interesting… so do you think photography as a medium actually suits your personality and views?
I don’t think it fits my personality but it has numerous influences on me. It enhances my personality and makes me more observant, objective, and aware. For example, photography can sometimes almost be seen as a form of attack on people and their privacy and so I have become hyper-aware of these sorts of things.
How do you feel in those moments when you see the shot that you want to take?
It’s like a state after you’ve taken psychoactive drugs. It’s akin to those moments when perceptions change and then people ask themselves and realise their own presence, the connection they have to the world and the universe – that’s how I usually feel. I like to take photos of people in a similar state of reflection induced by anything from extreme sadness or fatigue to strong emotions of happiness or excitement.
Shortly after taking the shot and seeing the produced image, what do you feel then?
I prefer to use film camera so I can’t see the outcome instantaneously. It is only after I have developed the film do I see the results and it’s like a surprise box. I always look for this feeling of excitement and surprise combined. I feel jaded when I know more or less how the photos will look and, therefore, I try my best to always travel, to go to places I’ve never been before and execute new ideas. This is how I maintain the chase for that feeling.
What gives you greater inspiration – people, settings or situations – and why?
I don’t think there is much difference on how these choices affect me. I simply prefer to stay in a certain environment first and observe. When human subjects are involved, I make sure to spend time to get to know them. Minimising the distance and maximising the degree of understanding between the subjects and the photographer. That kind of familiarity is what is inspiring.
The work you have chosen to publish shows us what you like and what creative ideas you aim for as an artist. Therefore I want to take this opportunity and ask you exactly the opposite. What themes are you not fond of featuring in your photographs?
I don’t like to take photos of the poor and the downtrodden. I regard published photos of these individuals as exploitation and an easy way to get attention through sympathy. I just can’t help imagining these photographers, with their expensive equipments, standing over these people and appropriating their humanity for ‘creative’ benefit. It is unjust. I don’t like it at all.
Which things, do you think, are translated better through the lens than by the naked eye?
Sometimes all that is needed is the right angle manipulation and some post editing and anyone can present the more beautiful sides of any subject. But this is, in no way, actually really better. The things that are truly captured better are the pictures a photographer takes with his camera to reclaim the verity of overlooked subjects. I personally see this process as making these undoubtedly real things ‘more realistic’ to people. It’s not that they can’t see these things with their own eyes – it is just that their own eyes and consciousness can’t translate the beauty of these objects without the help and focus put on by photography.
Alternatively, what can’t be captured and explained properly by photography?
I don’t like to read myself, and even if it were so, I know very well that the beauty of the written word cannot be compared to the visual beauty of photographs. I see written words as a thought-out product of the elements in your environment, what thoughts are aroused by it, and then the manipulation of the writer’s creativity and imagination. And when photography is compared beside this, I feel that it is inherently more direct. The audience can see more irrefutable elements in a picture than in a paragraph.
Likewise, once you compare photography to real life, there are less of these undeniable factors of reality. Parts of the whole of the true emotion of a moment are then swapped with technical skills, imagination, and even the photographer’s own feelings. So at the end of it all, photos can indeed capture things beautifully but only real life and the present can explain absolutely everything.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO
TRANSLATOR: PO-SHAN WU