“There’s an old-fashioned way of thinking that’s still very prevalent in Taiwan,” photographer Andy Richter says. “But it was obvious by the way I saw young people dressing that they were starting to question the conformity preached to them.”

Richter, based in Minneapolis, stayed with a local couple while he was in Taipei, and he talked with his hosts about what he was seeing on the streets and in cafés. “They explained to me that parents in Taiwan are very strict,” Richter says, “and very hard-working. Their kids are under a lot of pressure. These young people start with tutors at three or four years old, and the idea is to memorize and memorize and memorize and do as well as possible until you have a good job at the end and you’re happy.” Richter started to see the outfits and hair as the teens’ way of wrestling with the pressure, and expressing who they are as individuals.

With no translator (most of the time) and no knowledge of Mandarin, Richter interacted through his camera lens. “When I was taking their portraits, they were free. I got to see them how they wanted to be seen,” he says. “In fact, many of them were posing or performing for me, even though they didn’t know what I was doing there. We didn’t understand each other, but we made sense of each other through the camera. And I understood them in the best way I know how: visually.”

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Click through the slideshow to see more photos from Richter's time in Taipei.

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See Taipei Through a Photographer's Lens
Taipei photos
By Sarah Purkrabek, AFAR Contributor
Photo by Andy Richter
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    American Street
    A young man smokes a cigarette near Taipei Cinema Park. The area is also home to Lane 96 (also known as "American Street"), a trendy spot for shopping.
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    A Splash of Color
    A teen waits for his hair dye to set.
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    Fast Fashion
    "I sat with Kim, a fashion designer who studied in San Francisco, in a café in Taipei," says Richter. "We had coffee together. She told me about how difficult it is to make it in fashion there, as companies in mainland China will steal designs and reproduce fashions at a fraction of the cost."
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    Matching Uniforms
    A group of students in identical clothing practice for a performance in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
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    Culture Center
    A young man poses for a photo in Ximending, Taipei. The shopping area he's hanging out in is known for its fashion boutiques, restaurants, bars, and clubs.
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    Batter Up
    "It was ladies' night at the batting cage," explains Richter. "Men and boys would bring their dates to hit balls. They were dressed to go out, but they were really swinging away."
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    Dance It Out
    A group of teenagers practice their dance moves at the National Theater on Liberty Square.
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    Not So Candid
    "My subjects are aware of me," says Richter. "This isn't a culture that gets nervous around the camera."
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    Modern Toilet
    "This photo was taken at Modern Toilet, a national chain in Taiwan," explains Richter. "Diners eat curry out of urinals and toilet bowls, all while sitting on the pot. It's a very popular place there, but it would never fly in America. By the way...the food is tasty."
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    Style Guru
    A fashion store clerk in Ximending, Taipei shows off his work style.
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