The And I Wander series by Arizona photographer Wen-Hang Lin explores the artist’s struggles to assimilate as an immigrant from Taiwan.
Like many photographers and photography lovers, Wen-Hang Lin “discovered” the United States and camera work through Robert Frank’s influential The Americans. The photography book, first published in 1958 and featuring an introduction by author Jack Kerouac, is often seen as the pivotal mid-century statement for photojournalism and fine-art black-and-white imagery.
Nearly thirty years ago, Lin, buoyed by Frank’s groundbreaking work, moved from Taipei, Taiwan to the States to pursue photography studies. “I knew there was only one place I wanted to study photography,” writes Lin about his discovery of The Americans. Lin eventually earned an MFA from the Ohio State University and a BFA at Arizona State University.
In 2018, the Mesa, Arizona-based artist started an ongoing series called And I Wander that he says acts as a visual metaphor for his struggle to assimilate as an immigrant.
“It captures the vast, luminous landscapes of the Arizona desert, whose natural features—yawning blue skies and lush yellow and green flora—are dreamily reflected on the surface of a nebulous humanoid figure, which waxes and wanes in visibility between images: sometimes clearly differentiated against and occasionally hidden within its environment,” Lin writes. “Yet this chameleonic presence is never fully incorporated. Balancing the ‘yang’ of these landscapes’ tranquil stillness is the potent melancholy ‘yin’ of this solitary figure: conveying my unreconciled yearning for a sense of belonging in America.”
In another way, the body of work, inspired by André Kertész’s Distortions series, comes across as an experimental photojournalistic exploration of Lin’s self-identity, particularly in Dancing in the Breeze. The 2021 color image buries Lin’s enigmatic shadow self within a straightforward shot of desert shrubs and a palo verde tree.
“I cut out carnival mirrors to resemble my own silhouette and then place them within the landscape to function as my metaphorical surrogates,” Lin explains. “A figure is concealed to varying degrees within each image, depending on its relation to the camera and immediate environment. If foreground and background unite perfectly, visual continuity is maintained.
“It appears to merge with its surroundings; if not, this continuity is ruptured to surreal effect, making the hazy human form evident,” continues Lin, who photographed And I Wander on six-by-seven and six-by-twelve-inch medium format cameras. “While the figure’s rippling depth appears to be a digital effect, it’s entirely the result of my analog process.”