Because of their distinguishing presence, Betelnut Beauties have been set up as an icon which symbolizes the unlikeness of Taiwanese Betelnut culture and have been featured as a theme for many artworks, writings, research and even gossip for many years.However, the only aspect which has been emphasized was solely the exotic facade like dazzling neon-illuminated glass booths or the seductive coquetry of the Betelnut Beauties. No one has paid any attention to each of the women themselves. People have consumed those presentations repeatedly, without examining further. Then they fix their stereotypical recognition toward Betelnut Beauties as "Young women from poverty wearing skimpy attire, who serve truck drivers at roadsides".
Obviously I had been a that kind of "consumer" before I visited Taiwan, so the gap between real Betelnut Beauties, who I met on my first visit and my preconception toward them, was more than astonishing.
Their ages and backgrounds were too diverse to conclude "Poor lower class women in their late teens to mid 20s", the reasons why they choose that profession were diverse as well. Also, their customers were not limited only to truck drivers but many ordinary Taiwanese who visited them everyday. Ever since I ran into this fact, I've had a strong desire to know what kind of women choose the Betelnut Beauty as their own Profession, how they spend their everyday lives, and what role they have taken, in their family, and in their society.
The reality of my subject woman will not universally represent the reality of all Betelnut Beauties, in the same way as my reality or your reality will not represent anyone else’s. Also, my nine year exploration will not provide a permanent answer for the question "Who are the Betelnut Beauties" since they accept the changing times in the blink of an eye.
However, I may be able to say that my work could take some place if you lay aside your preconceptions and, after seeing my works, ask yourself again the same question -"Who is the Betelnut Beauty?”.
The semantic concept is to describe an issue that slipped through from —or might have been ignored by— preceding artworks or writings which portrayed Betelnut Beauties, and reveal a Betelunt Beauty as an individual.
I choose not to follow the same approach employed by other presenters since the intent was different from one behind other projects. This required me to place the following ground rules as a concept to base my project on.
- Focusing on only one individual known as a Betelnut Beauty.
- Being free from preconceptions and pre-conclusions. Don't shoot for gathering a piece to illustrate a conclusion, which was set in advance. What I mean to portray will emerge only by following, watching, and shooting the reality of my subject.
- Don't ask the subject to "act" or “pose” —sit/stand in any position, to hold any pose to make a composition, or to replicate any past moment to ensure rule 2.
It took me nine years —three years to find one woman who accepted being a subject, and six years of shooting— to complete my project. Spending such long time itself was not my intent. But it was obvious that substantial time was needed to understand someone and to portray him/her as an individual. Also, having visited Taiwan many times over a long period helped to free myself of exotic views toward the country and this was quite effective for me, a foreigner, to stop leaning on simplistic concepts as Orientalism, while portraying the Betelnut Beauty as an individual.