CCTV Taiwan, photo essay by Radu Diaconu
Taiwan is one of the most watched countries in the world. It has one of the highest densities of CCTV cameras per square meter. Every corner, every street and every entrance is watched, either by private security companies or by individuals wishing to protect their homes.
This tiny island south of Japan and east of the southern Chinese coast ranks as one of the safest countries in the world along with Japan and South Korea.
Walking in Taiwan you will find bicycles left untouched, motorbikes with their engines still running, parked with their keys still in, houses that give on the street have their doors wide open and unlocked. Everyone knows everything is being watched and no one dares touch anything.
In this climate of safety, I decided to turn my gaze inward, towards Taiwanese people, at their homes, at their lives and at their surroundings. My camera became my CCTV, my loop of grainy, dark and gritty images on Taiwanese life and the people were no longer being watched for their misbehaviour but simply as a reflection of the connected times that we live in.
Would Taiwanese people be any different without the cameras, would society be any different, any more violent or crooked? The question is worth pondering on, but the images themselves are, as they always are, only a fragment of reality, only a vision within a constrained box, showing us only what the camera wants to see, only what it believes is worth looking at.
My project aims to use a concrete reality and turn it into a reflection of society, as photography — like philosophy — has always tried to do. What are the questions we need to ask, what are the ethical boundaries that we will accept as a society? Does our need for security as a nation surpass our desire for freedom as individuals? The pressing needs of our time have turned these observations into everyday realities.
My surveillance of Taiwan, as voyeuristic as it is, is nothing more than what the CCTV cameras record everyday, without difference or contempt. Yet, we are not troubled by this, we accept this as readily as we accept that our personal cameras record what we want them to record, regardless of other people, of surrounding elements and of privacy concerns for others. Our cameras have evolved tremendously from their role in recording and documenting to a new one based on projection and fiction.
I hope that with this project — which in its final form will be mounted as multiple screens divided into 9 or 6 frames so as to simulate the CCTV cameras recording the scenes but with my photographs instead — some new discussion can be opened on our concerns for privacy and on our rights as citizens. Taiwan, in its rise as a developed nation, is only but the most interesting case to generate this discussion.
Q&A with Radu Diaconu
Photography is the most beautiful and the most unforgiving thing there is.
Photography and writing…
Photography and writing are intertwined. One does not live without the other – the greatest photographers are also some of the best writers of our time. Photography, like writing, uses the world around us to create, to reflect, to inspire and to ask the important questions. Photographers are the philosophers of our time, they invite us to reflect on our world, only they do so with light and shadows, with colours and hues.
Who left the biggest impression on you?
The photographers at Magnum have each had a little bit of influence on me, but my biggest inspiration and the person I keep going back to will always be Anton Corbijn.
Tell us a little about yourself
Besides my passion for photography, for light and for the canvas I am able to capture within the confines of my camera, literature plays and has always played an essential role in my life. I believe it is important to find, deep within us, what makes us human and how we can, through our smallest little actions, change who we are and improve ourselves so that this world will always be a little bit richer.
Radu Diaconu (website), 1986. Originally from Romania, I immigrated to Canada in 1993, 4 years after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. I did my studies in science and humanities throughout high school and went to Concordia University to pursue a degree in political science and photography (fine art). I also hold a Graduate Diploma in journalism from Concordia University.