I was procrastinating in my work yesterday and instead was looking through all the Taiwan hashtags I could find. Hoping to find some new spots to explore, I was struck with the realization that my eye of Taipei was very different than a vast majority of other photographers in the areas. Now there are certainly people whose vision and photography talent I admire greatly. So much in fact, I’m dedicating a whole post to Taiwan-Inspired Instagram accounts that showcase the uniqueness of this little island (to be released later this week).
Back to my photographs, the majority of them are not clean, minimalistic photographs of the details of life in Taipei or the grey-blue mirage of the concrete jungle. Instead, mine are typically messy, very green, probably cluttered and mostly an attempt to capture warmth. I began to wonder if my interpretation of the city was really a projection of my sense of home. And what does it truly mean to be an urban explorer? Could urban include green too? I tried to grapple with some of these (more urgent than work) matters.
I have to admit something here: I am completely jealous of accounts that are showcases of permanent vacations. Um, excuse me! Where do I get that much sand, sun, and blue? But despite Taiwan’s island geography, it’s really no Bali or Thailand (Sorry family and friends who still think I live in Thailand). Regardless, Taipei is still climbing in international travel recognition. Several travel brands have already labeled it as a destination to visit in 2015. In regards to my photo gallery, I doubt any potential traveler would be able to use my photography for research or even destination inspiration. I do take the occasional coffee picture or two, but the majority of my pictures are of plants, walls, and other oddities I find throughout my day. There’s only a few ‘city’ captures and even my major tourist hotspots are more eye-level shots than the big picture. Quite naturally, I came to the conclusion that my photographs reflected my expat life in 1×1 dimensions. I don’t see this necessarily as a bad thing as it motivates me to keep exploring the place I call home. Shouldn’t we all turn that extra corner, push back that rusty fence cover to take a peek, or detour through the park? Just because we’ve settled somewhere doesn’t mean the city around us has settled.
An Urban Playground
A monkey walks into a bar…just kidding! Seriously though, urban exploring is kind of like being a kid, allowing you to get a bit messy to fulfill that curiosity. I’ve always been one to follow the rules, simply because I knew they were the rules and rules are not to be broken without good reason. Living abroad has given me a certain freedom from that rule-bearing pressure. Now I can justify half of my curiosity-driven rule-breaking as good ol’ fashion ‘I didn’t know better.’ I get just a bit braver knowing I can plead innocent if someone comes out yelling at me and attempt to look like a confused blonde foreigner. Setting out on foot and having a bit more confidence in my pocket has transformed the way I view my daily interactions and allowed me to prevent the establishment of too many unnecessary routines.
Finding the Wild in the Urban Jungle
Okay, are you sick of hearing me talk about my love affair with green things in the city? I mean, I do love some good urban photography: a bit of grunge, a tad of architecture, and a smudge of skylines. But after all that time looking at what we’ve made, I love looking at something that has integrated itself with it. To remind me that we aren’t fully in control, nor should we be. That beauty can still be made on its own. It doesn’t always need a helping hand. How can I pass up moss on a wall or a tiny bush victorious over the cement we’ve laid? Taipei is very much a green city and many initiatives are geared towards environmental causes. I think that should be reflected in the visual stories of the city, just as much as the monuments, the people, and the food. The island is the foundation of the story. So why is green largely missing from the narrative?
Being an urban explorer isn’t all about facades, abandoned buildings, busy street portraits, or bird’s eye views of the neighborhood. It’s about capturing home, letting our inner child feel comfortable enough to play, and allowing the natural to voice its part in the larger story. It’s about being a listener to the labyrinth around you and being content with expanding your cul-de-sac mentality.