Tseng Kwong Chi was a New York based photographer made famous by his self-portrait series, East Meets West. In the series, consisting of over 100 images, Chi would dress as an ambiguous Chinese ambassador with sunglasses and photograph himself, emotionless, in iconic tourist locations throughout the Western world. He was exploring tourist photography, with themes of truth, fiction and identity.
Tseng died of complications due to AIDS in March, 1990. He is one of a handful of talents that emerged in the East Village art scene during the 1980s. He took thousands of photos of Keith Haring during this time and the two were close friends.
In addition, Tseng documented, in colour and black-and-white photography, the lives of his contemporaries including, Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, McDermott and McGough, Kenny Scharf, Philip Taaffe, Madonna, Grace Jones, the B-52’s, and Fab Five Freddy.
Living in Buenos Aires I sometimes have the feeling that I’ve been transported back in time to 1984 New York City. There was such an energy during that era that has yet to be found anywhere else, save maybe BA where street art is encouraged, respected and plentiful.
I’m afraid that North America has become too homogenized; pop-culture is saturated with talentless individuals more concerned with fame than achievement. There are artists who attempt to replicate the spirit of that period, but they lack originality, passion and most important, heart.
Tseng is a symbol of a time where success was based on original ideas, determination and dare I say it, talent. His photography continues to be exhibited internationally.
I’m confident that the essence of his work has and will inspire future artists for decades to come.