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An Intimate Look at Taipei’s Surprising Youth Culture

By Sarah Purkrabek

Nov 30, 2016

From the January/February 2017 issue

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A group of students practice for a performance in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Photo by Andy Richter

A group of students practice for a performance in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Photographer Andy Richter discovers another side of Taiwan’s capital, where teens use fashion to break free.

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“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 documented local youth culture 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 and very hard-working,” Richter says. “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.”

Scroll through Richter’s photos for an intimate look at street style and youth culture in Taipei.

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.
A teen waits in a salon for his hair dye to set.
Kim, a fashion designer who studied in San Francisco, told Richter about the difficulties of succeeding in fashion in Taipei, as companies in mainland China will reproduce original designs at a fraction of the cost.
A young man poses for a photo in Ximending, a shopping area known for its boutiques, restaurants, and clubs.
“It was ladies’ night at the batting cage,” Richter explains. “People on dates were dressed to go out, but they were really swinging away.”
A group of teenagers practice their dance moves at the National Theater on Liberty Square.
“My subjects are aware of me,” Richter says. “This isn’t a culture that gets nervous around the camera.”
At Modern Toilet, a national chain in Taiwan, diners eat out of urinals and toilet bowls, all while sitting on the pot.
A fashion store clerk in Ximending, Taipei shows off his work style.

>>Next: Meet the Queen of Taipei’s Hippest Subculture

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