Two Cameras, Two Moods BY Hang Dah-Perng

1 – 10 November 2019

Introduction:  Two Cameras, Two Moods 

Six hundred and eighty-five: This number, the number of days in my mandatory military service, stuck in my mind as I prepared for my time in the army. Twenty years ago, even from my first day of military service, I was silently counting down the days until my discharge. Later I found I was wrong; it should have been 686 days, because unfortunately I encountered a leap year. February 29 was that day, and it was an especially long and depressing day.

 Colorful Establishment, Monochromatic Indifference

After I completed officer training, I was made a second lieutenant and transferred to headquarters at the Chenggongling (成功嶺) base to support the press officer. All the cameras there were familiar old models. Press work at headquarters revolved around the typical official handshake photos, and I took a disliking to the work of the political warfare department, with its anti-CCP and anti-Taiwan independence propaganda, as my personal position was 180 degrees from that of the typical political education. But after all, being in the army, I didn’t have the freedom to admit what I really thought; I just wanted to be discharged as soon as possible, and hid my true feelings as well as I could.

 Although the staff at our unit didn’t need to train soldiers, we had to write weekly anti-CCP and anti-Taiwan independence propaganda on occasions such as Juguang Day (莒光日), when we had to provide political articles full of clichés. I needed a great deal of patience to work within such contradictions. Both at headquarters and in the barracks, I was just a small lieutenant among all the professional officers, counting down his time until discharge. Many people find revolutionary spiritual partners and lifelong friends in the military, but I was somewhat out of place there, with few friends; I was simply waiting inside my alienation.

 Fortunately, however, I had a chance to take photos. The department had an SLR camera I could use, and so I loaded it with color negative film, using it to take official photos of various events. I also brought my own SLR camera, which I kept in my canvas bag, loaded with black-and-white film to record things outside of promotional photos. I wanted to capture my feeling of waiting for discharge through my photography. 

 With the two cameras I had two viewfinders, each of which presented acompletely different perspective; one was the official view of the base, while the other was my personal view of things I felt like shooting. Shooting my own black-and-white photos was a small act of rebellion; pressing the shutter was a way to express my helplessness. Twenty years later, when I was re-organizing the film and looking at the images, I could still feel the cold alienation, as well as how depressed I was at the time.

 A Peaceful Conclusion to Miserable Service

After 686 days of patience, the day of my discharge finally arrived. I’d gotten drunk at a party the night before, and early in the morning, together with my comrades who were also being discharged that day, we all put on our civilian clothes and assembled at headquarters. The division commander shook our hands one by one, giving us our discharge orders; we had been waiting for so long for that piece of paper, and had been wondering how exciting finally getting it would feel. However, when I actually received my discharge orders, my mind was calm, almost blank, like a boat after a storm. I felt neither resentment nor gratitude over these 686 days; it was just an experience I’d gone through, and now it was over; clear skies lay ahead.

 As we walked out of the base gate, one of my comrades said, don’t look back, just walk forward, just like prisoners just released from prison. Everyone laughed. It was a rainy morning, but the dark clouds lifted a little, showing a faint gray. The base smelled fresh after the downpour. I still remember it. 


The Soldiers 

1949년 말, 중화민국 정부는 공산주의와의 내전에서 패배한 후 대륙에서 대만으로 피신했다. 한때 대만에 자리 잡았던 중화민국 정부는 같은 해 12월 28일 의무 징병제를 선포했다. 정부가 발표한 법안에 따르면 18세에서 40세 남성 시민에게는 2년 동안 병역 의무가 주어진다. 2008년 1년으로 기간이 줄어들었으나 국방부가 징병제로 모집한 마지막 군사 부대를 제대시킨 것은 2018년 12월에 이르러서였다. 모든 남자 성인 시민이 병역 의무를 졌던 징병제는 68년간 지속되었다. 하지만 이에 관련한 재미있고 진실된 사진을 본 적이 있는가? 그에 대한 대답은? 아마 없을 것이다. 이유 중 하나는 군대 내 사진 촬영이 금지되었기 때문이다. 하지만 1990년대, 사진에 열광하던 세 명의 대학 졸업생들은 입영한 뒤 이 제한을 넘어설 수 있는 방도를 찾았다. 셋은 모두 막사가 달랐지만 계급과 운이 좋았던 덕분에 취미생활을 이어갈 기회를 찾았고, 징집병으로서 직접적인 경험이 담긴 사진을 찍을 수 있었다.

많은 사람들은 대만의 징병제를 성인식, 남자가 되기 위한 절차라고 생각했다. 반세기가 넘는 기간 동안 징병제가 유지됐는데, 만약 모든 사람들이 2년(특정한 나이인 경우 3년이었다)을 바치는 일이 의식 절차라고 생각했다면 이 국가는 정말 암담했을 것이다. 병역 의무는 우울하고 좌절스러우며 힘들고 슬픈 경험이기 때문이다. 선택지가 주어졌다면 입영하지 않을 것이다. 몸과 의지 단련이 잘못된 것은 아니지만 허가될 만한 이유가 없다면 강제되는 병역 의무는 강압적이고 성가시는 관료주의적 문화, 권력 남용, 부패, 자기기만, 정치적 최면에 굴복함을 의미하기 때문이다. 청춘들은 사회에 나서기도 전에 진을 다 빼고 포부를 잃어버린다.

일각에서는 군 복무 덕분에 여러 세대의 남성들이 공통된 젊은 시절을 공유한다고 말한다. 그러나 군 복무는 사실상 “시간 낭비”라며, 의식 절차로 보기에는 어렵다고 주장하는 사람들도 있다. ‘군인들’ 시리즈는 이미지를 통해 군 복무의 영광을 신비화, 신화화하는 사람들에게 자각심을 깨워준다. 세 가지 관점을 담은 세 대의 카메라는 주관성이 사라진 시공간과 군 내 규정을 알아보고 따르는 군인들의 태도를 기록했다. 다시 보면, 징병제를 담은 이 사진들은 지나간 역사를 상상하고 탐색할 수 있는 수단이다.

About The Artist: Hang Dah-perng was Born in 1969, and enrolled in the Journalism Department of the Chinese Culture University in 1987. Bought his first camera during his freshmen year in college, and began to use photography as a tool to self-exploration.  Most of his college time was spent between street photography and darkroom printing pictures. In the meantime, Hang had determined to take photojournalist as his career in the future. After graduating from college in 1991, Hang served in the army as a press officer in the Chenggongling Basic Training Center, which gave him the chance to keep taking pictures of his colleagues in the army. After discharged from the army in 1993,   Hang took a job as a photojournalist in the Independent Morning Post newspaper, and then worked for the Taiwan Apple Daily newspaper in 2003 and up to the present. Hang has currently been promoted to the deputy director of the Photography Center with a belief that recording the change of society under consciousness is the mission of a photojournalist and the ambition of his life.