Whale Island

Taiwan is an island nation surrounded by rich ocean life. But with territorial disputes on their shores, and risky sea journeys made to escape travel restrictions, the sea has become associated with trauma. Writer Liao Hung-chi and oceanic photographer Ray Chin try to return the place of the sea in Taiwanese popular culture back to a place of exploration and wonder.

From the overhead vistas to the undersea splendour, the images caught in Whale Island are just beautiful. They give you a sense of the size and awe of the ocean, and fill you with a childlike urge to set sail.

Both men have the sailor’s dilemma. At home, they think always of the ocean; on the ocean, they think always of home. Ray Chin is quite frank that he finds childrearing draining, and while loving his kids, kinda spends his time with them dreaming of the sea. Liao Hung-chi’s marriage fell apart for this very reason, and he is now trying to reconnect with his daughter as she enters adulthood. There is an open sense of resentment. Liao’s daughter is perfectly aware that he spent his time with her wishing he was out at sea, and seems to have set herself to have nothing to do with the subject as a result. Ray’s kids are too small to say, but you wonder what their opinion will be.

Both men finds the ocean a spiritually nourishing place to be, where their life has the most clarity. Liao takes inspiration for his writing from the sea, and you get the sense that he desperately wants to be able to convey this experience to his daughter. It is always at a distance they feel the pull of their families the most.

Whale Island is about the beauty and awe-inspiring world beneath the waves. It’s about the teeming life in the ecosystems there. It’s also about us, as part of this world, and how we choose to interact with our seas. Do we destroy it, turn our back on it, or bring another generation to it in exploration and celebration?