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Cultural Features:Photographer | Pan Hsiao-hsia

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Photographer Pan Hsiao-hsia
Photographer Pan Hsiao-hsia

Chinese Name: 潘小俠

Birth Name: Pan Wen-chu (潘文鉅)

Born: 1954

Died: July 31, 2023

Place of Birth: Taipei (Northern Taiwan)


Did You Know That…?

Photographer Pan Hsiao-hsia once stumbled into the entertainment industry, managing the blind singer duo, Lee Ping-huei (李炳輝) and Chin Man-wang (金門王) and catapulting them from traditional teahouse performances to national fame.


Growing up in Beitou District, Taipei, Pan Hsiao-hsia originally ran an advertising company. After martial law was lifted, he joined the Independence Post as a photojournalist, capturing numerous social movements and local subjects. Initially passionate about sculpture and painting, Pan became entranced by Taiwan’s indigenous culture after reading “Taiwan Indigenous Cultural Art (台灣土著文化藝術)” by veteran artist Liu Chi-wei (劉其偉). This led him to Orchid Island, spurred by sheer curiosity to take photographs.

From 1980, Pan Hsiao-hsia started capturing the essence of Orchid Island, visiting the local communities over a hundred times. His lens documented significant events and the Tao people’s journey, from anti-nuclear protests to their quest for ethnic dignity. For 25 years, from 1980 to 2005, his recordings of Orchid Island became powerful testaments, reflecting Pan’s unique photography style and life experiences. These two-and-a-half decades of work have become an essential visual history for the Tao people. In 2006, he published and exhibited “Orchid Island Chronicles (蘭嶼記事),” followed by a more comprehensive version in 2022.

Around 1987, inspired by the book “History of Taiwanese Art Movement During the Japanese Occupation (日據時代台灣美術運動史)” by artist Hsieh Li-fa (謝里法), Pan began photographing Taiwanese artists mentioned therein. He expanded his focus to cover younger post-war artists, indigenous artists, those persecuted for political reasons, and those residing in Paris. After accumulating 30 years of photos and fieldwork, he released “100 Years of Taiwanese Artists—Pan Hsiao-hsia’s Photographic Records (台灣美術家100年-潘小俠攝影造像簿)” in August 2017.

During his tenure at the Independence Post, Pan interviewed notable figures who suffered during Taiwan’s “White Terror” period, such as Bo Yang (柏楊), Yeh Shih-tao (葉石濤), and Wang Tuo (王拓). These interviews enlightened him about the history of the White Terror, motivating him to document these political victims from 1986. His 24-year-long endeavor resulted in the 2009 book, “Branded White—1949-2009 Human Rights Images (白色烙印1949-2009人權影像),” a unique portrait and background documentation of victims and their families. This work led to his involvement in “Witness 228 (見證228),” a project by the 228 Incident Memorial Foundation, where he spent four years photographing and interviewing victims and families from diverse ethnic backgrounds across Taiwan. Both books stand as significant achievements in Pan’s career and as crucial historical records for Taiwan.

Beyond photography, Pan Hsiao-hsia also produced several documentaries. While working at the 228 Memorial Museum in Taipei, he came across Taiwanese veterans from the Japanese occupation and the indigenous “Takasago Volunteers (高砂義勇隊).” The sight of these aged, often physically impaired volunteers deeply moved him, and he felt the need to capture not just their images but also their voices. This led to his documentary “For Whom Do We Fight—A Documentary Narrative in Images (不知為誰而戰-影像故事紀錄片),” released in 2002.

Aware of the dwindling number of Takasago Volunteers, Pan became even more committed to recording vanishing cultural histories. This dedication resulted in another documentary in 2003, “The Last Tribal Mark—Patsan (部落最後印記-紋面patsan).” In 2009, after Typhoon Morakot devastated the Rukai village of Kucapungane in Pingtung, Pan documented the community’s challenging journey of rebuilding, culminating in the 2011 documentary “Dream of Homecoming (回家的夢).”

Pan Hsiao-hsia was deeply engaged in documentary photography, spotlighting Taiwan’s landscapes and social movements. Through his lens, he chronicled artists, authors, indigenous peoples, and victims of the White Terror, effectively writing a visual history of Taiwan. His significant contributions to Taiwan were recognized when he received the Wu San-lien Art Award (吳三連藝術獎) in 2017.

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