The Stage.
Photographs by Sen Chao-Liang.
Self Published, Taipei, 2011. 172 pp., 88 illustrations, 10½x11½".

Publisher's Description

Selected as a Best Book of 2011 by Martin Parr.

Performing groups in the form of cabarets, song and dance ensembles, recreational bands, or even in the name of entertainment companies, are mobile performing troupes endemic to Taiwan, where their customer base and show content are inextricably interlinked. They have been around since the 1970s, with song and dance performances as their principal act, and have made regular appearances in all sorts of occasions — from weddings, funerals to festivities. Stage trucks, the subject of this photo series, are mobile “carriers” exploited by the said performing groups still active and widespread in Taiwan’s plebeian society, molding the collective memory of the Taiwanese people.

In the early days, in addition to the conventional makeshift staging still in use today, there were also modified trucks furnished with stereo and simple keyboard equipments. But with the advancements in technology, coupled with the thirst for quality audio visual effects, both from the business owners and audience, the stage has progressively developed into the likes of electronic floats or foldable mobile hydraulic trucks we see today. At first glance, unfolding of the stage trucks seems rather easy, but the technology requires precise science in materials, power, mechanics, electric machinery, and industrial design. The way of the unfolding has also seen evolutions, from the initial complete manual operation to more sophisticated wired control, then to the present state-of-the-art wireless remote control that takes no more than a few minutes to completely unfold the stage.

There are no accurate statistics on the number of stage trucks in Taiwan. According to a survey by some business owners, the number is estimated to be 600 or more, most of which are in Yunlin, Chiayi and Tainan areas. The reason for the large number in these regions can be intimately linked to the density of temples and frequency of associated religious celebrations held by the devoted believers in thanking the gods, or the customs of holding outdoor banquets for festive events. The changes in time have given rise to multiple use of stage trucks, gradually extending to events as variegated as street campaigns and election rallies. The stage trucks are usually leased and charged by the hour, where rates may vary according to location, truck size and condition. Their targets can be the general public, institutions or even short-term dispatch to companies of the same trade. Owners will need to meet the demands set out by the clients, such as driving the trucks to the designated location at the designated time for use within the agreed time, unfolding the truck prior to the event, taking care of the sound and light control, and handling various operations during the lease period.

As for the contents of the stage shows, song and dance performances have remained the main acts since the beginning. Back in the days, singers were usually dressed in elaborate costumes comparable to indoor cabarets. Recent years have seen more skimpy-clad singers wearing two-piece with bikini underneath. The shows must sport a good run-down tailored to clients’ needs and constantly revamped to stay attractive. In addition to celebrities and singers putting on exhilarating shows, a wide array of other performances, such as pole dancing, acrobatics, magic, folk arts, large-scale music shows, or even man strip shows or drag shows, can also be arranged depending on budget and scale.

In making the STAGE series a new branch in the visual creation of documentary photography, while embodying contemporary photography in Taiwan, I have gradually moved towards using view cameras targeting at the current cultural and social reality for in-depth creative interpretations in the form of direct photography, instead of the exhaustive emphasis on abstract concepts in the past highlighting the use of compound medium and high reliance on digital generated techniques. After factoring in my professional conditions and specialty, hoping to display the otherworldly scenes diffusing colors, totems, lights, and the ambience between the stage trucks and the surrounding, and visually re-creating the dreamy and colorful feel, I decided to set the universal time for shooting at sunset evenings, using only 4x5 color reversal films.

As for the presentation of the STAGE series — mostly a no man’s landscape incorporating the surrounding environment — I want to bring out the presence of stage trucks, of their existence in the plebeian society, a strong contrast against the reality indescribable beyond words, while seeking to break away from the visual expression and form of traditional documentary approach by trending towards a newfangled contemporary mode that seamlessly integrates environmental portraits, visual grouping and category construction.

The present collection is the selected compilation of photos in the STAGE series in the past 5 years. It is my aspiration to convey this unique Taiwanese industry and the abundant cultural messages it exudes with its dazzling totems and soaring ideas, eliciting people’s imaginations and connections to the culture of this peculiar entertainment business, which transcends time and space, bonds the horizontal and vertical, and links the planar and three-dimensional. Through the STAGE series, I also wish to approach Taiwan’s contemporary social and cultural landscape from a more traditional and direct style of visual description, fusing modern vocabulary to invite viewers to examine the potential turning points and awareness derived from the development history of contemporary photography in Taiwan.

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