Foreign familiarity or familiar foreignness is a key motif in Hsu-Pin Lee’s photographic work in that he records images of sites where spectacular events happen in ordinary places. These are scenes at once routine and spectacular that exist in the de-fantasized imagination.
The media’s manipulation of images makes it easy to digest and appropriate disasters resulting from extreme weather conditions. TV viewers have no problem eating pork chop packed lunch or squid noodle soup while watching buildings being washed away by floods or helicopters dropping instant noodles for disaster relief. These speedily produced images of natural disasters showing on media and the short-lived visual gratification triggered by watching them are non-resonant. A year after a notorious typhoon swept Taiwan in 2009, Lee launched his Disastrous Landscapes series, recording scenes devoid of cheap compassion in the typhoon-stricken district of Namasia.
As it was flood season when Lee started the project, the sense of nature's determination to reclaim the land was palpable. His search for locations began in March 2010, and then he decided to shoot upstream areas of the Nanzihsien River, the Laonong River and the Tsengwen River. Disastrous Landscapes challenges the public’s physical reaction to disasters and draws attention to the numbing effect of watching repetitive spectacles. The series also explores the way in which disasters are consumed/redeemed in media images that contribute to a collective, emotional breakdown.
The steep and sharp valleys in Disastrous Landscapes record past changes, but in the scenes before us, such changes appear routine and periodic. Both human and geological forces have created these silent scenes, but the effect of human forces is called “disasters,” while the creations of cycles of time are called “scenery.”