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By Spottly Insider Magazine

Sergio Palma: Taipei Through the Lens of a Nicaraguan Photographer

Take a look through the lens

As “the hidden outlooker”, Taipei-based, Nicaraguan-born Sergio Palma scours Taipei for poignant portraits of the city’s residents, providing an intimate look at the city’s older corners.

Tell me a bit about yourself, how you came to Taipei, and what you do here.

I was born in Nicaragua, but always felt that I had an issue with my identity and struggled with fitting in with people I was surrounded by. It led me to drop out of college in Nicaragua and find something else to do with myself. I came to Taiwan in 2011, and I’ve been here for four years now – on an academic scholarship. During that time, I discovered my love for science – and what I was supposed to do with my life.

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How did you first pick up photography?

So I found science, but that wasn’t enough for me. I don’t feel completed by just doing studying texts and being in the lab. While I was still living in Nicaragua, I hung out with some friends who were studying journalism. One day, they wanted to do a photography course and bought themselves some nice cameras. They taught me; my first time going out shooting with at this cemetery in a nearby city. I immediately loved it. After one year in Taiwan, I bought a camera; and ever since, I’ve been trying to improve photography skills – but more, what I want to do with my photography. It’s not only about skills – but more important, what kind of message you want to express in your photography.

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What do you want to portray in your work?

I’ve recently been focusing on portraits who have some connection with social issues. Last year; I had my most definite experience so far – taking portraits of protestors during Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement. I started reading about the protest, then got up and took my camera to see what was going on. I knew I was living through a historical moment and wanted to record it. I wanted to give that to the world. I also try to portray a different side of Taiwan that most visitors – or even residents – don’t see. For example, in the older, western district, you not only encounter tourist novelties such as Snake Street, but also things that are even more strange to those who are used to a very friendly, family-friendly Taipei: homeless people, prostitution. Seeing that hidden-in-plain-sight side of Taipei makes you rethink how well you actually know the city.

What are some favorite neigborhoods in Taipei for you to take photos?

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1. One of my favorite neighborhoods to photograph – Huashan Community:

It was actually torn down recently by the government – a very sad thing. It started as a prison during the Japanese war. When the Kuomingtang came to Taiwan, people began to build their own houses there. These people have lived there since for generations – then one day, they’re suddenly notified that they had to leave the homes they’ve lived in for decades, because of construction of a new financial district in that area was approved. The government hardly gave any compensation, claiming that land belonged to the government in the first place. I was biking nearby taking some pictures when I saw a tractor demolishing some houses. I stopped my bike, started walking around and seeing old houses were marked with eviction signs – at that time some of them were still occupied. This was two years ago. I kept going back over the past few years to take photos, and by the end no one was living there anymore.

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2. Treasure Hill Artist Village:

This housing complex faced a similar situation as Huashan Community, but thankfully the veterans that occupied Treasure Hill were successful in their fight against demolition and were able preserve their homes. The whole place works as a hybrid community (with the original residents) and a vibrant artists’ colony.

3. Night Markets:

You can’t talk about Taiwan without mentioning the night markets – there is so much to photograph – and eat! I like going to Raohe Night Market – there’s a huge temple at one end. I once went there and they were having a crazy, colorful festival; I took tons of photos.

4. Danshui:

The Taiwanese celebrate a whole roster of festivals throughout the year. During the Moon Festival; there is this beach in Danshui where people go to set off fireworks and have BBQs. It’s not a popular beach, so you won’t find it in any guide, but on festival days and holidays, its worth going.

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5. Longshan Temple:

People usually don’t tend to hang around this area. There’s a park with lot of homeless people playing board games; sleeping on the benches; a very peculiar sight now in modernised Taiwan. You don’t see that side of the city when you go to Xinyi or other places.

For more of Sergio’s photography, visit his site: THE HIDDEN ONLOOKER.

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Spottly Insider Magazine

Hong Kong