文 / 策展人 羅惠瑜 2022.2.8
退休神父在等待回天家的過程中，身體的病痛折磨與平凡的我們毫無二致，而這些將人生歲月貢獻給台灣的神父們，在生命最後一段日子是什麼樣的光景？「A Time to Scatter Stones」是莊媖智於2018到2020年間在頤福園的定點拍攝計畫。頤福園位於新莊輔仁大學神學院旁，是台灣天主教耶穌會照顧高齡神父的安養照護中心，十多位平均年齡為九十歲的神父來自不同的國家，在此度過人生的最後一段旅程。
單一社福機構長期蹲點的拍攝計畫，首先讓我聯想到美國女性攝影家Mary Ellen Mark (1940-2015) 的《Ward 81》，Mark把自己關在精神病院裡與病人一同生活拍攝了36天，揭露了奧瑞岡州立精神病院的病患處境，展現了女性攝影家對女性精神病患的獨特觀照。周慶輝(1965-) 耗時三年以樂生療養院為主題的「停格的歲月─痲瘋村紀事」，是國內紀錄攝影佳作，透過憾人的影像，表現痲瘋病患的生活點滴。長期蹲點社福機構拍攝，是人道關懷，還是利用被攝對象成就個人藝術實踐？兩面刃的拿捏，需要藝術家的高度自覺與自省。
莊媖智的專業是公共衛生學，在美國北卡羅南納州念博士班時為了要平衡繁重的論文壓力，首次接觸社區中心的攝影課與暗房；在史丹佛大學博士後研究時，特別去大學部上攝影課，意外展開一趟精彩的影像探索之路。「西門時刻」是媖智在台灣嶄露頭角之作，她花了四年的時間拍攝西門町不同族群的私密空間，例如：紅包場、刺青店、同志三溫暖等等，讓人印象深刻的不僅是龍蛇雜處的西門町次文化展現，而是她與三教九流之士應對與自處的能力。莊媖智過往的拍攝計畫如2002年的East Palo Alto、2007-2008年的木柵老街、2012-2016年的西門時刻、2017年的嘉義現代軍眷等，她從經驗中建立自己與陌生人互動的原則：錯過可能成經典的照片無妨，人與人的相互理解更為重要。非攝影專職的莊媖智清楚理解拍照是具侵略性的行為，並隨時提醒自己該知道何時收手。
「A Time to Scatter Stones」 來自於傳道書第三章：「凡事都有定期，天下萬務都有定時。… 哭有時，笑有時。哀慟有時，跳舞有時。拋擲石頭有時，堆聚石頭有時。懷抱有時，不懷抱有時。」，意指世間萬物都有命定時刻。頤福園的神父們年事已高，不太有體力與外界互動，多半安靜在自己的世界禱告、做彌撒、用餐與復健，他們忍受身體的病痛，依舊珍惜與上帝之間的關係，並且等待著上帝來接他們。
The Weight of Waiting
Written by the curator / Hui-Yu Lo 2022.2.8
What is a tranquil waiting in the face of death? How vast and profound it can be?
As the retired Jesuit priests are waiting for the coming of the God, they, who are mortals like us, have as well been afflicted with the illness. What does their late stage of life look like after all these years of their dedication in Taiwan? Starting from 2018 to 2020, Chuang Ying-Chih worked on a photography project of Yí Fú Yuán (頤福園), which is a health care center of Society of Jesus in Taiwan and located near Fu Jen Catholic University in Xinzhuang District of New Taipei City. About ten priests in residence who come from different countries and at an average age of ninety wait in peace for God’s calling.
When it comes to shooting on location at a social welfare organization for a relatively long time, It reminds me of “Ward 81” shot by the American photographer, Mary Ellen Mark(1940-2015). Mark spent 36 days on ward with women of Ward 81 at Oregon State Hospital. Her works, shown through a female lens, captured a compelling and unique portrayal of women patients who had mental illness, bringing light to their situation and getting their story out to the world. Chou Ching-Hui(1965-), on the other hand, devoted himself to a three-year-long photography project, “Frozen in Time (1995),” shot at Losheng Sanatorium and seen as one of the best documentary photography works in Taiwan. Through poignant images, his photographic works guided the audience to have a close look at how patients live at Losheng Sanatorium. While spending time embedded in the locale, observing and getting to understand their subjects when shooting them, there’s a boundary between the story-telling via fine art and violating photography ethics. It can be either an effective way of engendering the appeal of humanism, or making one’s works as their own artistic legacy. This inextricably intertwined issue has to be dealt with delicately.
Chuang graduated from the School of Public Health. While studying for her Ph.D. in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in America, she, in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance, was first in touch with photography and darkrooms through a community center. During her Stanford Postdoc time, Chuang took lectures on photography in the university in which her marvelous journey of exploring the photography world kicked off. “A Topographical Tale of Ximending” was her first published photobook in Taiwan which took her four years to capture private spaces of a variety of social groups at Ximending, a historical community in Taipei, such as Red Envelope Club, tattoo studios, and gay sauna, etc.
What is more impressive than photos which depict the emotions and feelings in a fading subculture is her communication skills with different walks of life. Her works include “Sunday at East Palo Alto” in 2002, “Mucha Old Street” from 2007 to 2008, “A Topographical Tale of Ximending” from 2012 to 2016, “Spaces and Portraits in Veteran Villages” which photographed a contemporary veteran village in Chiayi in 2017, etc. She follows ethical principles based on her personal experiences of interacting with strangers: “it’s totally okay to miss the chance of taking a potentially great photo; what’s more important lies in the interaction with people who I work with.” She knows well that the act of pointing the camera at people can be seen as aggressive. Chuang, as a non-professional photographer, knows pretty well where the boundary lies.
The personnel changes of management level and priests in their later years who need constant special medical attention are elements that make it more difficult to carry out the shooting project at Yí Fú Yuán. In addition to her busy public health teaching and research work, Chuang showed amazing determination and execution ability, and completed this special photography project in three years along with more than 100 visits. The series of images have a quiet quality, which makes people calm and savor them. She does not focus on the aging bodies of the priests, and even avoids images with strong visual elements when selecting works. We can see the daily life of the priests, the environment and atmosphere of Yí Fú Yuán, Catholic ceremonies, as well as a few relics and old photos left by the priests. She mentioned in her artist statement that “When the priests’ physical conditions are gradually feeble and functions become limited, their longing, pain, and hope reside in a place of light in their hearts before the candle of life is extinguished.” This is her exploration of the inevitable mortality.
The theme “A Time to Scatter Stones” is from Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing”(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), concluding that there is a God-ordained time for each moment and that God is the ultimate authority over them all. Priests of Yí Fú Yuán are seniors who now seldom interact with the external world because of their physical conditions. Their daily routine is praying for the Church, attending Mass, having meals, and doing rehab. Their physical conditions though sometimes are not good; however, they bear in mind that a living relationship between a disciple and his master is to search for the Lord in prayer of intercession and adoration, and wait upon His calling.
For humans, the known destination is death. During the time approaching to that point, we age, suffer, and decay. There’s always denial and fear when it comes to the known. At the end, all humanity will come into God’s presence. However, from the Creator’s point of view, there is a purpose and meaning to every life, including all the sufferings along with it. Chuang’s first solo exhibition initiates a visual discussion about those immense beauty of life as well as individual confrontation with mortality, reminding us that it’s about how to free the mind from the whole accumulating process of living and suffering and see the immensity of it.
莊媖智 Ying-Chih Chuang
台北市人，以攝影來了解特殊社群之文化樣貌和生活處境。2012-2016年進行攝影專題「西門時刻」，拍攝台北市西門町的私密空間，呈現不同族群次文化的氛圍和情感，2017年出版首本攝影集「西門時刻」。2018-2020年拍攝天主教退休神父最後的生命歷程，鏡映一種安靜等待的生命狀態，其攝影集「A Time to Scatter Stones」於2021年出版。
Lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan. She mostly focused on the culture and life experiences of marginalized groups in Taiwan. From 2012 to 2016, She photographed private spaces of a variety of social groups at Ximending, a historical community in Taipei. The photos depict the emotions and feelings in a fading subculture. She subsequently published her first photobook “A Topographical Tale of Ximending” in 2017. Starting from 2018, she worked on a project to capture the sense of “waiting” among retired priests in a care center at the last stage of their life and self-published the photo book “A Time to Scatter Stones” in 2021.
拍攝 / 羅惠瑜
A Time to Scatter Stones 莊媖智個展