One Eye Sees, the Other Feels: A Conversation with Doc Photographer Fong-Chia

By Aniqa Rahman

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the sixth in the series.

Born and raised in Taiwan, Fong-Chia-Ho is a Toronto-based artist with an insatiable passion for documentary photography. I first met Fong at Centennial College where she was announced as one of the winners for 2018 CLIX Photo Competition at the Story Arts Campus. Fong has had an interest in photography since childhood, and before arriving to Canada she studied film at the Wenzao Ursuline University. She started as a photo assistant under photographer Jason Lee, who became her mentor. This apprenticeship helped her find her love of documentary photography and develop her storytelling eye.

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

“The initial purpose of taking this photo was that I friend asked me to photograph for her at the festival, but when I clicked, I saw there were something more than just an ordinary photo. I realised that the person who was in the frame was also photographing me.” — Fong H.

As a budding photographer, I couldn’t resist exploring her brilliant portfolio and was instantly drawn to her captures of street life. Her touch of black and white imagery with lurking shadows made her photos more dramatic.

“Although I love colour and black and white photos, most of my photos are in black and white because I like the gradience which gives the pictures more sense and power. However, I also love colour photo especially contrast, complementary colours because they make a photo more compelling and intriguing in a sense.”  — Fong H.

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

What ultimately drew me to Fong’s work was her captures of the Taiwan’s marketplaces– in particular, of women taking ownership of the marketplace. This is a stark contrast to what I see back in my home country, Bangladesh, where I can’t recall seeing any women in charge of butcher shops. Street culture can speak a lot about how a community operates, the stereotypical roles that people are assigned to, and how we as individuals enable those views/behaviour.

Having said that, there is another looming disparity seen in Bangladesh’s malls and marketplaces: the division of socioeconomic classes. While marketplaces and bazaars are open to all, malls on the other hand, are targeted exclusively for middle to higher class consumers.

Mainstream malls, from what I see, are considered to be progressive spaces which sells as well as advertises the latest innovation and luxury goods, whereas marketplaces are viewed as one-stop shop for “low-quality”, traditional handmade or homemade goods. In Bangladesh, many marketplaces are associated with poverty and violence, female shoppers are prone to go missing or experience sexual violence in these spaces, which is why you will encounter fewer female business owners operating at these markets.

I asked Fong her reasoning behind photographing the street markets. He responded that she found these amenities to be unique. “I have travelled to many different countries, and whenever I look back at my home country, I realised how unique it is,” she explained  Every vendor is approachable; every price can be bargained depending on the relationship between the seller and the buyer. Fong continued,  “In addition to that, in a market, some vendors are an inheritance from generation to generation, and this is I rarely can see this from other countries, especially western countries.”

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

For Fong, her memories of growing up in her hometown and being surrounded by marketplaces are entrenched in her heart and in her mind. She believes that these places which were once buzzing with people, are now disappearing due to growing lifestyle changes and younger generations choosing to move to cities for work.  Capturing images of street markets is what Fong believes will help preserve these memories. She hopes to share these photographs with her family and relatives to remember the tradition. These photographs can indeed serve as a greater narrative for folks who are also keen on learning the history of street life or culture in Taiwan. Fong hopes that viewers who see her documentary photographs are able to relate to the same feeling of adventure or beauty that she sees in the street markets.

You can check out more of Fong’s work on her Instagram or website.

Aniqa Rahman is a recent University of Toronto graduate, where she earned her Honours Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She owes much of her success in life to not only her family, friends, and mentors, but also to Community Arts which has been an integral part of her healing process as well as growth towards her individuality. Raised in a diverse neighbourhood in Scarborough, Aniqa has been immersed in the Arts since 2013. She has participated in ArtStarts’ Sew What?!, East Music and Project Management with Scarborough Arts, We are Lawrence Avenue with Cultural Hotspot, UforChange photography classes and Collecting Personal Archives by Truth & Dare Project.