Rant

Professional? Amateur? Who cares?

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I grew up in an extremely small town in rural Nova Scotia.

You might be thinking to yourself - Where’s that?

And if you are, I wouldn’t blame you. 

Nova Scotia is a somewhat insignificant place on the east coast of Canada.

It is admittedly one of the most beautiful places you could grow up in, but there is also serious lack of opportunity for the people living there. These economic problems are exacerbated by a revolving door of inept provincial governments which seems to place very little importance on education.  

I started my final year of high school with a group of around sixty students. I can’t tell you how many people actually ended up graduating but what I can tell you is that less than ten percent of those who did ended up continuing their studies at college or university. 

Like most young people who have aspirations for a better future, I felt motivated to attend a university, get a degree and eventually settle down elsewhere. Nova Scotia after all is becoming a place where people spend their retirement years. Its not a place for young people. 

My sister graduated two years after I did and the situation with her class was pretty much the same as what had happened to mine. She ended up being one of the few in her class who went to university. 

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There was a girl in my sisters class, she was one of our neighbours and her family was well known in town for being extremely intelligent - somewhat out of place in the small close-minded where we lived.

When she graduated high school, not only did she go to university to get her bachelors degree, she then moved on to a masters programme and then finally completed a doctorate.

She’s now a professor at one of the best universities in Canada.   

A few weeks ago she posted a photo on Facebook commenting on the vast array of both appropriate and inappropriate titles that her freshmen students used to refer to her.    

As a Professor of Developmental Psychology she remarked that some of her students didn’t really understand how to properly address a professor.

She wasn’t complaining that she expected her students to all refer to her formally as “Professor Jane”, or “Doctor Doe”, she was simply saying that the students could at times come across rather awkwardly when they were thinking about how to address her. 

Society places a high level of respect on people who have achieved a high level of expertise and it is generally accepted that if you’re a doctor or a professor then you should be referred to as such. 

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But what if you’re a photographer?  

Many shutterbugs cling to the title of “Professional”, but why? 

What makes someone a Professional Photographer? What makes someone an Amateur?

In the past there was a line that clearly differentiated those who worked as full time photographers and those who were just playing around.

Today though, those lines are blurred by the fact that almost everyone has a camera in their pocket and photography has become much more accessible. The market for selling photos has also completely changed.   

This has become a subject that stirs up a lot of debate in photography circles but from what I’ve observed over my years in the game is that being a professional is something that is rarely based on achievement or merit - it’s based purely on ego. 

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The definition of an amateur is “a person who engages in a pursuit or activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit.” The definition of what a professional is however can somewhat vague in that it refers both to someone who ‘earns a living’ from a profession and someone ‘who is an expert’. 

These are rarely inclusive.  

If your definition of a professional is simply someone who earns money from taking photos, I suppose I would agree with you - I would add though that earning a living from photography doesn’t necessarily make you a good photographer. 

If on the other hand you prefer to define a professional as someone who is an ‘expert’ in their field - Someone who not only takes beautiful photos but also understands the science of photography and is constantly learning and improving his or her own skills. I would also agree with you. 

This however is a bit more difficult to prove. There are self-proclaimed experts in every field. 

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So do I consider myself a professional photographer? No, I don’t.

I wouldn’t refer to myself as an amateur either.  

Then what am I? I don’t like to spend my time defining these things.   

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to earn money doing what I love while at the same time taking pleasure in the fact that I can use my modest skills to promote the things that I love.  

For me, that is enough. Unfortunately for others, its not.

One of my favourite things to do is to network with other photographers in my free time.

Whether I’m attending workshops, going to exhibitions, or going on photowalks - I think its important to meet up with, learn from and support others who have the same interests and skills as my own.

I always treat those I meet as friends and colleagues - Never as competition or an enemy!   

Humility and respect for others are character traits that I think are extremely important.

You’re never going to be able to learn from others or broaden your horizons if you constantly place yourself on a pedestal and treat others as inferior.  

I have a hard time understanding people who spend all day talking about how “professional” they are and then turn around and use that self-proclaimed status to denigrate others with terms like “hobbyist”, “amateur”, or “weekend warrior.” 

Insulting others doesn’t make you a better photographer. It makes you a shitty person. 

If you aspire to be a professional in any field, you’re going to have to learn to get along with and network with others. If you prefer to act petty and treat people negatively your path to success is going to be much longer than you ever suspected. 

Nobody wants to spend their time with someone who is constantly looking down on them.  

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I consider myself mildly competent with a camera however (I’m sure I’m not alone when I say) it is an exercise in humility every time I open up Instagram, Flickr or 500px only to see and see all the beautiful photos that put mine own to shame. 

There is so much talent in this world and never has it been easier to share it with others.

The line between who and what makes a “professional” is one that has lost most of its meaning. A kid walking down the street with a smartphone could snap the next cover of National Geographic while a self-proclaimed professional may never even get a photo on the front page of the local news.

This is something that I hope people could think about before they let their ego run rampant. 

I have no problem with self-proclaimed professional photographers, but its important to remember that when you do give yourself such an important title it doesn’t give you a licence to denigrate others.   

Photographers are people who walk around with a camera sharing their vision of the world.

We’re not university professors nor are we brain surgeons. 

Be kind to one another. 

Disappearing History - Taichung Park

Taichung Park (台中公園) is a 10 acre park situated within the downtown core of Taiwan's central Taichung city. The park is the oldest in the city with a century year history dating back to the early stages of the Japanese Colonial Era.

The expansive park is an important recreational area for the people of Taichung which features several important pieces of Taichung's history mixed in with the jungle gyms, basketball courts and a lake for kayaking and canoeing.

Originally known as Nakanoshima kōen (中之島公園) the park was constructed in 1908 and has been listed by the Taichung City Government as a protected historical site owing to the various historical monuments on site.

My first post about the park focused on its most famous landmark, the beautiful century-old Mid-Lake Pavilion (湖心亭). The park however has a few other historical landmarks which (for the most part) date back to the Qing Dynasty.

With this post, my purpose won't be to focus on history of each of the historical monuments found within the park (although I will provide a few photos of them) but instead focus more on something that really irritated me and something that has actually been bothering me for a while. 

Wu Family Gatehouse (吳鸞旂公館的更樓

Let me start with a bit of a backstory - A few weeks ago an article surfaced from the Japan Times with the title: "Taiwan: Where Japanese go to feel at home on vacation" which romanticized the Japanese Colonial Era and the cultural and historical relationship that the people of Taiwan share with Japan.

The article had good intentions but ultimately caused a bit of an 'uproar' in the expat community here in Taiwan with people commenting on some of the historical errors and colonial mindset within. Personally, I thought that despite a few factual errors, the article more or less made its point that the people of Japan hold a high level of respect for Taiwan. 

This country is a popular choice for Japanese who want to get away, but also a safe place where they will be treated with kindness and respect - which the article admits can often be a bit difficult due to the historical pain the Japanese inflicted throughout Asia during the Second World War.

Wang-Yue Pavilion (望月亭) from the Qing Dynasty.

The feeling appears to be quite mutual for the people of Taiwan who choose Japan as one of their most popular tourist destinations.  

That being said, there is no denying that terrible atrocities were committed against the Taiwanese people during the colonial era. These "incidents" as they have become known are well-documented - especially those against the Indigenous people of this island where there are gruesome photos that show some of the terror inflicted upon the people of this land.

On the other hand, the Japanese helped to develop Taiwan with modern infrastructure, education and healthcare - In the short fifty years that the Japanese controlled Taiwan the island experienced tremendous growth in its development. Its safe to say that without the infrastructure left by the Japanese that the Economic Miracle (臺灣奇蹟) and rapid industrialization that made Taiwan one of the Asian Tigers (亞洲四小龍) would never have happened.

Ohhhhh a Shinto Shrine?

How does this all relate to Taichung Park?

When the Second World War ended and Japan surrendered to the allies, the legal status of Taiwan came into question. The result was an ambiguous decision to allow the Republic of China to assume control over the island despite the political situation being both disputed and unresolved according to international law.

The Chinese Nationalists under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek (at the time) were in the midst of a brutal civil war with the Chinese Communist Party and when the situation took a turn for the worst, they retreated to Taiwan with a few million refugees setting up shop here with the ultimate goal of regrouping and 're-taking' the mainland to restore democracy in China.

That never happened.

The Second World War caused a lot of resentment for the Japanese and the Chinese refugees who escaped to Taiwan had a hard time understanding why the people of Formosa didn't particularly share the same opinion of the Japanese.

Due to that bitterness (and in an attempt to convert the people of Taiwan into "Chinese" citizens), the KMT enforced a strict Mandarin-only policy while tearing down or repurposing buildings of Japanese cultural or religious significance.

The deliberate destruction of these buildings was a point of contention in one of the arguments I had with the article I shared above. It was suggested that the Chinese Nationalists didn't actually destroy everything that the Japanese built which was partially true - The new (colonial) regime only destroyed what they couldn't use for themselves.  

Once well-established on Taiwan however things changed and those buildings which were relics of the Japanese Colonial Era started to disappear. I took some time to search information from the Ministry of the Interior which in the 1970s approved an initiative to "clean up" (destroy) any of the remaining buildings of Japanese cultural influence. I'm including the text of that announcement at the bottom of the post for reference (I won't bother translating).

The idea was that if the buildings couldn't be repurposed in a way to either solve the housing crisis or serve a new role, they were destroyed. Of the over 200 Shinto Shrines in Taiwan during the colonial era, only a handful remain today. The same goes for the Martial Arts Halls - There were once over seventy of them around the country with only a dozen remaining in existence today.

In recent years some of Taiwan's local governments have made an effort to rectify the mistakes of the past and have classified some of the surviving buildings as historical properties and have given them protected status. Sadly though the damage has already been done and many of Taiwan's historic buildings of Japanese origin were torn down or desecrated to fit a certain political narrative.

Doesn't Confucius have his own temple?

This leads me to my point

My visit to the Taichung Park was solely to walk around with friends and take some photos of the Mid-Lake Pavilion. I honestly had no idea about any of the other historical aspects of the park although I had heard from my friend Alexander that there was a really cool pavilion from the Qing dynasty that I should check out.

While walking around the park however I noticed something that seemed out of place - There was a walkway that was lined with stone pillars, something that once would have had lanterns. There was also a set of stairs that led up to two bronze horses and a statue in the distance.

From what I've learned over the past few months with regard to the design of Shinto shrines it amazed me that I was walking around a former Shinto shrine. I've done extensive research about the remaining shrines in Taiwan and if there were to be one in the Taichung Park, it most certainly would have come up.

I knelt down to look at the stone pillars which had some 'fading' Chinese characters on them but looked like they were purposely vandalized with the words scratched out. I rubbed my fingers along the indents and the word read: "昭和..年" which refers to the specific year of Emperor Hirohito's reign that the Shrine was completed.

I continued walking up the path and walked up a set of stairs which led me to two opposing Bronze Horses (銅馬), yet another piece of evidence that a Shinto shrine once existed in this space. The horses were actually in great shape, but yet again, something wasn't right. The Chrysanthemum seal, the symbol of the Japanese royal family was purposely scratched out on the torso of both of the horses.

This behaviour is something that I've unfortunately had to become accustomed to in my search for Japanese-Era buildings - Some people have gone out of their way to destroy the memories of Taiwan's history and most recently we have seen random acts of vandalism by Pro-China Unification crazies like Lee Cheng-Long (李承龍), who have beheaded statues of Japanese engineers and destroyed century old statues to satisfy his hateful existence and political narrative. 

The vandalism of both the horses and the lanterns was yet another example of this attempt to erase history.  

The shrine area itself was honestly quite beautiful - It was tree-covered, quiet and peaceful and yet nobody paid any attention to it. While the park was full of people and the other historic relics within had plaques and educational resources set up, the shrine sat alone in a corner and I might have been the only person to notice it.  

When I got home I started searching for information right away and quickly found out that the park was once the home of a beautiful Shinto shrine that was named Taichū Jinjya (たいちゅうじんじゃ) or the Taichung Shinto Shrine (台中神社) and like the Tongxiao Shinto Shrine was dedicated in part to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (閑院宮載仁親王), who died in Taiwan and was elevated to god-like status after his death.

What I do know about the shrine is that it was opened in 1911, a few short years after the Mid-Lake Pavilion and was one of three Shinto Shrines in the city - with the other two being currently being replaced by the Taichung Confucius Temple (台中孔廟) and the Taichung Martyr's Shrine (臺中縣忠烈祠). The shrine ultimately became victim of the same shortsighted nationalistic government policies that destroyed not only aspects of Taiwan's Japanese colonial history but also that of Taiwan's Indigenous cultures and languages in an attempt to erase history and brainwash the people of Taiwan. 

Walkway to the shrine

While I realize that the reality of the situation is quite precarious and there are negative feelings directed towards Taiwan's former colonial masters, the wonton destruction of Taiwan's history and in some cases parts of its cultural heritage to placate certain political narratives is truly sad. There is history painted all over the streets of this country but it is slowly disappearing due to lack of preservation, governmental policies (like the one below) and modernization.

The history of colonialism is a touchy subject in many places all over the world and yes, it continues to be one here in Taiwan today but the most important thing we can do is to learn from the past and hope that these kind of things won't happen again.

This is the government announcement in 1974 which listed the buildings or sites of Japanese origin that would be dealt with:  

清除臺灣日據時期表現帝國主義優越感之殖民統治紀念遺跡要點

 內政部於民國63年公布了〈清除臺灣日據時期表現帝國主義優越感之殖民統治紀念遺跡要點〉,臺灣各地的神社,遭到政府與民眾大規模的拆除,僅有極少數被保留下來,使得這些見證日治時期歷史的文化遺產,幾乎消失殆盡,現在的我們只能從極少數倖免於難的神社遺跡中,認識當年的時空環境。

 有關本條文內容摘錄如下:

1.日本神社,應即徹底拆除。

2.日據時代遺留具有表示日本帝國主義優越感之紀念碑、石等構造物應予徹底清除。

3.日據時代遺留之工程紀念碑未有表示日本帝國主義優越感,無損我國尊嚴,縣市政府認為有保存價值,應憑據有關資料圖片,分別專案報經上級省、市政府核定,暫免拆除,惟將來傾頹時,不再予以重建,其碑石移存當地文獻機構處理。

4.民間寺廟或其他公共建築內,日據時代遺留之日式構造物,如日式石燈等應勸導予以拆除或改裝。

5.日據時代建造之橋樑,經嵌立碑石仍留存日本年號者,應一律改換中華民國年號。

6.日據時代遺留之寺廟捐贈石碑或匾額,以及日據時代營葬之墳墓碑刻等單純使用日本年號者,暫准維持現狀。