當初拍攝這組專題是在高速反覆的新聞勞作之外，希望能找到獨處獨白之地，我常被觀者問到為何對死亡、痛苦、消失…議題如此感興趣？我想我還是很難完全感受只好盡量接近，我無法預知這組照片能對社會產生何種化學作用，我只是一個攝影師。這組照片當初就預言樂生療養院的消失，在我拍攝12年後樂生療養院就像痲瘋病人進手術房截肢∙殘落面目全非(1) 。這組照片就像對樂生療養院進行複印但無法看到全貌，我只對觸動心弦的事物進行複印。大衛∙瑞夫(David Rieff)曾說「我們可能透過敘事去理解，但卻憑藉攝影去記憶」這也是我當初拍攝的意圖之一。我相信憑藉著照片中展開的生命意像能喚起讀者一些記憶。
The Last Night
“A young girl spends the night accompanying a terminally ill leper whose time is almost up. The girl frets that she won’t be able to tell when he has died, and affixes a tissue over his nose, so that if it stops fluttering from his breath she can quickly inform the nurse on duty.”
This is the childhood recollection of a Happy Life patient.
While compiling this book I have had a frequent illusion that this set of photographs is constantly repeating the same destiny, like a mélange of documentary and fictional theater. Something I wrote upon the publication of a collective portrait of Taiwanese photographers in 1995 kept running dreamily through my mind: “I often think of myself as calm in the face of death, observing how peaceful the patients lying about are, wearing unruffled expressions; yet the fear and anxiety lurk within my subconscious – perhaps everyone goes through the same things.” Often after I have photographed the death of a patient, the thrill of witnessing the true face of death is replaced by feelings of guilt. I guess the two go hand in hand together.
I took this set of photographs in my spare time away from the fast-paced and repetitive work of news photography in hopes of finding a place of my own. Viewers often ask me why I am so interested in the topics of death, suffering, and disappearance. I suppose since it is impossible for me to feel it completely I can only get as close as I can to it. I cannot predict in advance what kind of chemical reaction these pictures will cause in society, for I am just a photographer. These photographs foretold the disappearance of the Happy Life Leprosy Hospital, as a dozen years after I took the photographs Happy Life entered the operating room like its leper subjects, coming out unrecognizable (1). Making this collection of photographs is like not being able to see all of Happy Life’s aspects, and photocopying only the things that might pull some heartstrings. David Rieff once said that we may understand through narrative, but we remember with photography. This was one of my intentions in taking these pictures, and I am confident that the vitality that comes out in these photographs will stir up memories among readers.
Things all around and outside us are always disturbing the hidden box of the camera, while the hidden camera on my mind is constantly interfering with the things going on around me. If there were a purpose to my photography it wouldn’t be so confused and nebulous.
The great Japanese photographer Hosoe Eikoh said, “A photographer shoots the subjects that most interest him in his own way. What is important is shooting in one’s own manner, even if it’s not strictly photography.”
I find myself invariably transgressing the real world outside while at the same time making too many compromises. Fancying myself clever, I use various ways to gain freedom in photography, while getting myself stuck in the mud. Setting a photography plan is a way to give my soul a direction in which to drift, and I repeatedly tell myself that even if my heart is uneasy, through photography I can be torn up inside, struggling with incessant conflict as if self-confliction is a necessary condition for completing a plan. When loneliness meets conflict one pushes oneself to the brink of coming apart. I am infatuated with images of death, suffering and disappearance, and I believe I will continue to shoot photographs because I’m afraid I might stop.
1.Construction of the power plant in 2002 for the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system’s Hsinchuang Line forced the demolition of the Happy Life Leprosy Hospital, which has been incorporated into the Huilung Community Hospital of Hsinchuang.