Memento Mori / Taiwan 2012
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”–Ghandi
These images record the last moments of life for some dogs found in public pounds run by governmental agencies in Taiwan. These portraits are taken on the very day in which the animal depicted is about to be put down or mercifully killed. These images are but a small fraction of the total body of work in this ongoing project.
Utilizing the classic portrait style that originated in the early 19th century with the birth of photography as an art form these photographs offer the viewer a chance to look attentively into a bleak future. These dogs are essential dead and their souls are hours, minutes away from non-existence. These portraits reflect a formal construct or platform through which the viewer and the dog “communicate” using exchanged gazes to create a forced contemplation.
Photographic images allow us to contemplate. Through contemplation we gain an understanding of the uniqueness and nobility of life. Through contemplation we understand how chaotic and disordered the world has become.
The tyranny of human has caused and today is still causing an amount of pain and suffering over nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals should be treated as independent sentient beings that they are, and not as a means to human being.
People should consider animal rights as a moral issue rather than appealing to emotional affection. As Peter Singer wrote in his Animal Liberation, “The portrayal of those who protest against cruelty to animals as sentimental, emotional “animal-lovers” has had the effect of excluding the entire issue of our treatment of nonhumans from serious political and moral discussion.”
The purpose of this project is to arouse people’s awareness of animals rights and make people think through, carefully and consistently, the question of how we ought to treat nonhuman animals. The animals themselves are incapable of demanding their own liberation, or of protesting against their condition with votes, demonstrations, or boycotts. We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.
The photographic image is merely a vehicle of communication that can lead to a better understanding of a situation, an event, of ourselves and of the world around us.
In viewing these specific images, one looks directly into the eyes of the dog and the dog looks back. These images reflect the last opportunity to look. This is a final and decisive moment. Death is eminent and all that is asked of the viewer is to engage, to recognize the common bonds and to honor the resemblances between our lives.
More info added 2015:
Born in 1975, Yun-Fei Tou first encountered the art of photography in 1991, as a student at The American School in Switzerland. In 1998, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a major in photography. In 2007 and 2008, Yun-Fei Tou received the Golden Tripod Award for Photography, presented by the Government Information Office, Executive Yuan. In 2012, he received the grand prize of Taoyuan Creation Award. His work has been included in a number of solo and group exhibitions held in various venues such as: Kaohsiung Fine Art Museum, Taipei Photo Center, Taiwan Photo Museum, Taiwan International Visual Art Center, National Taiwan University of Arts, and three images from this series were included in 2011 New York Photo Festival “Provocation,” a Jury Invitational Exhibition. “MEMENTO MORI” is one of several long-term projects of Yun-Fei Tou.
2011〜 present / Contributing Photographer, BUSINESS WEEKLY, Taiwan
2010〜 present / Columnist, ESLITE STATION , Taiwan
2010〜present / Freelance Photographer
2010〜2011 / Photography Advisor , CHEERS MAGAZINE, Taiwan
2008〜2009 / Senior Photographer, CHEERS MAGAZINE, Taiwan
2004〜2008 / Photographer, RHYTHM MONTHLY, Taiwan
1999〜2003 / Curator/Art Director, Photography Studio of Yang Chi-Hsin
Exhibition and Publication
Oct 2011 “MEMENTO MORI”, PUNCTUM, issue 2, India.
Jul 2011 “The Mercy Killing of Stray Dogs”, BUSINESS WEEKLY, issue 1235, Taiwan.
May 2011 “The Uprising of New Farmers”, BUSINESS WEEKLY, issue 1224, Taiwan.
Mar 2011 “Provocation”, a juried invitational photo exhibition presented by New York Photo
Festival, New York.
2010〜2011 “Into Society: Critical Realism in Taiwanese Photography since 1990” exhibition
Remember You Must Die: Tou Yun-Fei’s Memento Mori Series
“[The camera] was the only witness… I couldn’t bribe” – King Leopold (Linfield, 49-50)
Essay by Aaron Pearce
ART4115 Professor Fitzpatrick December 10, 2012
Remember You Must Die: Tou Yun-Fei’s Memento Mori Series
Tou Yun-Fei is a Taiwan-born photographer who is most notable for the current works presented within this paper; a series titled Memento Mori. As an emerging artist, he does not have considerable academic reviews of his works. Instead, his work will be analyzed through similar portraiture styles and subjects. A common point of interest in regards to the series, and influential artists discussed within this paper, is the topic of death. The presentation of death within media and fine arts alike remains a matter of debate and emotional response for a valid reason: it is the most extreme vulnerability humanity still has yet to conquer. Humanity has encouraged religion and science to aid in this topic, attempting to find an understanding of death, whether going to heaven, reincarnation, or other beliefs. Visual arts has silently provided its own attempt at providing eternity through the memorialization of figures now deceased, the images provide a memory of one’s existence. It is the brief moments of facing death, knowing that it will arrive and is inescapable, that has been cemented as iconic through the crucifixion of Christ and other acts of martyrdom. This knowledge of death’s inevitability is unavoidable in Tou Yun-Fei’s series Memento Mori. The Taiwanese photographer captures the final moments of life for stray dogs prior to their death through euthanization. The results are mesmerizing images that present the canines with a respect and dignity that parallels the dignity provided to martyrs as they too are ushered to their death. This essay will attempt to recognize the Memento Mori series by Tou Yun- Fei as an exemplification of how art can form a martyr through the representation of the community the subject embodies, no matter the choice of sacrifice or type of animal, the medium enables the audience to see the subject as an individual of a collective in need.
“Memento Mori” is a latin term, meaning “remember you must die” (Merriam- Webster). This is a fitting title for the series of works that illustrates mortality by forcing the viewer to look at the dog’s hours and minutes before their own mortality comes to an end. The photographs of the Memento Mori series are of poised and regal canines looking at the camera (therefore the viewer) or just off from the viewer, as if avoiding the gaze (figure 1, 2). The images include the dog in the foreground and a grey ambiguous background, reminiscent of classic portraiture such as Nadar and contemporary photographer Richard Avedon. The devotional artworks of the Byzantine and early Renaissance periods included such stark and simple backgrounds as well; typically gold with Byzantine traditions and later the unadorned medium itself (types of paper or canvas) in Renaissance devotional works. A strong example of this undesired depiction of environment being the completed drawings by Michelangelo, including Devotional Drawing of the Crucifixion for Vittoria Colonna, dated to 1541 (figure 3). The stark imagery enabled the viewer’s focus on the details and emotional reactions to the martyr (Bennet, 3). The emotional reactions to the Memento Mori series is enabled through the varying conditions of the dogs, including loss of hair, emaciated, skin diseases, and visible psychological harm. Tou Yun-Fei has photographed over four hundred dogs since 2010, spending the last hours of the dog’s life with the canine (Lam). The images that have been chosen and presented by the artist are of noble animals in portraiture style, associated with the beginning of photography, but also related to the stark works of Avedon and documentary photographs (Yun-Fei). This style provides an emotional response through the unadorned impact of facing a creature who is about to be put to death, the imagined life he or she has led and the memorial that been produced through the photograph so the dog’s existence continues.
The choice of an animal as a subject that could compare to the human sacrifice of a man or woman may not apply to reality, depending one one’s own relationship with animals. In the realm of the image and of art, the emotional response remains parallel whether it does in the physical world or not, for “the sufferings most often deemed worthy of representation are those understood to be the product of wrath, divine or human,” the interest of the subject suffering is based on the wrath of man, which these dogs have come to know (Sontag, 33). The power of mourning as a reaction to images can be instilled in a spectator without the acknowledgment of the death as non-human. Philosopher Judith Butler asks the question of which lives count as human and what can “make for a grievable life” in the article “Violence, Mourning, Politics” and elaborates on the mourner’s change in their own life through the death of another (20). The acknowledgement of one’s death addressed the mourner’s dependence on another and the collective ties that are developed, most directly stated by Butler’s thought: “Who ‘am’ I, without you?”(22). This relationship that must be deciphered at death can be between any living being, whether dog, cat, man, or another animal. The feeling of loss in one’s own life through the death of another can be exercised regardless of the type of animal, human or other. The emotional reaction of mourning that strives to be constructed by an artist while presenting a martyr or death can be applied to the mourning of the dogs photographed by Tou Yun-Fei.
The animal as a subject within art could be applied to the representation of the Other in art. Professor of Philosophy Bob Plant cites Levinas as a reference in the understanding that Western Philosophy “assimilated every Other into the Same” (49). Plant cites a variety of philosophers regarding the place of dogs within humanity and society. Plato, Sextus, Emmaneud Levinas, Ludvig Wittgenstein, Raimond Gaita, and George Orwell are all referenced by Plant to form a concrete insight into the role of dog in society. The Other has had a variety of understandings throughout history, but generally refers to those who are cast outside the normalities of the West. The concept of Orientalism was derived from post-colonial theorist Edward Said in Orientalism (1978), and his understanding that the West, specifically European nations, were in the midst of new relationships with the Orient, including the study of culture and traditions and the “ideological suppositions, images and fantasies” of the region (Said, 90). Orientalism introduced the Other as those not of European or colonial decent (93). Susan Sontag describes “the centuries-old practice of exhibiting exotic -that is, colonized- human beings; africans and denizens of remote asian countries were displayed like zoo animals,” those incased for entertainment were the Other, the exotic in which the canines of Memento Mori would be deemed (57). In a contemporary light, the Other was described as being outside the Western norms of gender, culture, and race according to Patricia Monture-Angus in her book Thunder in My Soul (230). The Other in both texts is describing humans and cultures that are ethically equal to the West’s people, but remain culturally isolated (Pirskanen, 2). The Other, like the dogs, may be considered apart of the collective in terms of ethics and concepts of justice, but remain distinct culturally (linguistics and traditions). Plant attempts to prove the ethical relationship between dog and man that cements the dog’s place as an Other.
“A Hanging” by George Orwell is provided as an example by Plant, with the narrative discussing the hanging of a prisoner and a brief reflection on a stray dog’s understanding of the event (50-52). The dog is able to identify the prisoner, not as a fascist like the guards, but as simply an individual within a group of men: the dog’s excitement for interaction with a collective described in brief by Orwell (51). Plant details how Orwell recognized the man not as a fascist to be hung, but as a living being, as an Other, thanks to the dog (51-52). The excited animal’s reception providing an equality between the group of beings, dog included (51-52). The distinction of recognizing the dog and the prisoner as equal in both the eyes of man, and in the eyes of the dog. The dog is simply another individual representing, and calling attention to the humanity of, the Other. If not an Other themselves, the dog is to be “a being-for-the-Other without reserve, condition, or calculation” with an understanding of justice, according to Sextus, and of ethics according to Plant (54). A dog may not pertain to the linguistic skills of man, but can perform the unnatural, or un-animalistic, acts of putting another’s life ahead of one’s own, and the act of singularity, of “individuality attenuated in them”(56-59). These reasons allow canines to be embody a place of Other, although not able to pertain to linguistics, or physical acts in the same manner as humanity, the dog can provide similar understandings of what allows for collectivity between humans, and between canines alike.
The individuality of canine, able to act singularly, can be viewed in the series by Tou Yun-Fei, which portrays each animal with unique qualities and poses. The Memento Mori images present the subjects (not objects thanks to those idiosyncratic qualities) with dignity and portrayed as a human subjects would be illustrated in portraiture. This desire for nobility and dignity on par with human portraiture is, in part, due to the knowledge of what will come next for the subject; death. This death, thanks to the photographer’s works, will be representative of the deaths of all members of the community of animals that are euthanized due to overcrowding of pounds and lack of adoption. The dog’s photographed within the Memento Mori series are martyrs thanks to the photograph that will illustrate their fate, elevate the subject to an individual that will bring attention to the community of canines.
The title of martyr is a bold and controversial designation. Historically major religions or political figures have typically had the privilege of labeling a martyr as such, but the true designator is the people to whom the martyr represented. A martyr sacrifices his or her body to torture, or death, for “political, national, or religious causes, in protest against, or resulting from, the actions of a tyrannical oppressor” (Fitzpatrick, 314). In the realm of visual arts, the introduction of photography and the capturing of reality also aided this cause through the documentation of events that could later be viewed as martyrdom. In relation to the dogs presented by Tou Yun-Fei, the debate as to whether a martyr can be sentenced to death rather than choosing said destiny, can be argued.
The interpretations of emotions and mentality of a martyr is always under scrutiny, and generally initiates any debate as to whether he, or she, is a martyr versus simply killed or committing suicide. This debate is significant in many contemporary cases of martyrdom, the IRA (Irish Republic Army) hunger-strikes and 2009 Iran protest deaths as a powerful exemplification. The martyrs, notably Bobby Sands, of the IRA hunger-strikes chose to starve to death in protest of their treatment by Britain which could be considered suicide, but was thought to be the only option to draw attention and hope to rectify their communities position in the United Kingdom (O’Gorman, 198). Another contemporary case of martyrdom can be regarded with the Iranian protests of 2009. The protestor Neda Adha-Soltan was shot on the street at random by the regime during the Presidential protests of 2009, and came to represent the Green Party and the resentment of the current ruling party (Shirazi, 114). Neda Adha-Soltan did not choose to be sacrificed, but has become an icon and a martyr for a community nonetheless. The dogs of the Memento Mori series also have been killed without choice, but still represent a community in need of a martyr.
The canines presented in the Memento Mori series are to be euthanized shortly after the photographs are completed; this is stated within the direct titles of the works, such as 2011/10/24, 12:09pm, Taiwanese Public Shelter, Time until Euthanized: 1.9 Hours. The title makes clear to the viewer the fate of the animal, and that he or she is now deceased. The impact of knowing these matters: the physical state of the dog; the time until which they will be put down; the fact that when looking at the image the animal is dead; these attributes creates a reaction that could be similar to that of reacting to a martyr’s death. The decision to die for one’s community is not always needed to be a martyr, it is the cause that is stood for that has led to an avoidable death. The use of photography, whether documentary (the case of Neda Adha-Soltan) or artistic (the Memento Mori images) helps convey the death of an individual as a representative of why the death occurred, whether the problem of stray dogs in Taiwan or the poor reaction to protestors from the Iranian government.
A photograph, specifically a portrait, can be a “representation of a person for him- or herself, and not for their attributes or actions or connections” (Edkins, 364). Images can enhance one’s individuality and singularity, a viewer can identify “the impossible science of the unique being” (Barthes, 71). The portrait can change the subject, allowing a further reflection on who he or she is singularly versus based on other factors such as religion, culture, or environment (Edkins, 364). The viewer can instead identify with the subject on a complex level that may provoke an understanding of the subject as a martyr for the viewer, whether or not considered so in their real existence. A martyr is an individual who willing to sacrifice their life for their community, commonly political or religious communities (Fitzpatrick, 314). They become a source of respect and inspiration for other members of the community. The martyr leaves the collective group to become an individual to represent the group. The canines photographed in the Memento Mori series become singular through the portraiture and represent the community of dogs who will be neglected, abused, and euthanized. An artwork can produce a martyr based on the impact and context viewers create through it’s singularity that the subject’s ability to provoke respect for not just itself, but for the community it is extracted from by the artist.
The photographs documenting the genocide of Cambodia during the 1970s is a firm example of how images can reflect the desperation of a people and turn the unknown citizens into martyrs reflecting the travesties of a nation (figure 4). During the communist party Khemer Rouge’s reign of Cambodia, than titled the Democratic Kampuchea, between 1975 and 1979, there were a conservative estimate of 1.7 million deaths during this time due to “overwork, disease, starvation, and murders of political and ‘ethnic’ enemies” (Kiernan, 26). The capital, Pol Pot’s prison, S-21, was populated with estimates of fourteen to twenty thousand prisoners, including children and women, they are referred to as the S-21 prisoners (Edkins, 367). As a state institution, documents remain of the organization, activities, and ‘criminals’ of the prison, including six thousand surviving photo negatives documenting prisoner’s existence that have been now exhibited internationally (371). The photographs are not portraits, like the case of Memento Mori, instead the prisoners are objects, not subjects, although they contain the singular identities, here they are noted for uses of capture or recognizing within a bureaucratic system (374). This is noted by the attempt by the prisoners to conceal themselves, the mug shots are to be a studium; an average effect that notes of political, cultural, or some other form of interest of the photo as a whole, here studied for the practical reasons of the guards knowledge (Barthes, 26). The act of attempting to conceal themselves, through detachment to the viewer, instigates both embracing of their objection and preventing it by forming the punctum of the photograph(Edkins, 374). The punctum, the point of interest that is accidental but, therefore, most notable within these images is their attempt to detach from the viewer, photographer, and the horrifying environment (Barthes, 26). Barthes may disagree with this punctum and choose another understanding of the word based on intensity for the viewer, which will be discussed later in this paper with Portrait of Lewis Payne. The photographs of Cambodian prisoners are singular, each prisoner, whether man, woman, or child, is an individual even in a series of thousands of images. The singularity, that is derived from their unique punctum, allows a deeper relationship with the viewer that permits an emotional reaction not just for the individual presented to the viewer, but the genocide as a whole.
The images of S-21 prisoners captured those tortured and killed, but now are shown as subjects that cause a reaction of protest to the events of Cambodia’s genocide. Due to the photography’s reach to audiences, the prisoners can be considered martyrs today thanks to the impact actualized.
Along with the similar lack of choice in their formulation as martyrs, both the subjects of Tou Yun-Fei and the S-21 prisoners are portrayed in the same portraiture style. The clean and monotonous backgrounds of white, black, or grey with powerful and emotional subjects in the foreground meeting the viewer’s gaze may be referred to as the “Avedon aesthetics,” thanks to the photographs by Richard Avedon (Duve, 22). Nadar may be the originator of this aesthetic with his works of the late 1800s that have been used as reference points for the work of Barthes due to their easily identifiable punctums and knowledge of time and death. Nadar’s works are traditional Nineteenth Century portraiture of simple backgrounds and poised individuals. Although Nadar aided in the introduction of the styling, Avedon’s most direct comparison with the images of Tou Yun-Fei and of the Cambodian prisoners is the series of Vietnam citizens after the Vietnam war, including the portrait Napalm Victim #1 (figure 5; Duve, 21-22). Photographer Manabu Yamanaka’s Jyouda series similarly captures those effected with physical defects with a white surrounding with subjects he describes as relating to the purity of a Buddha-spirit (figure 6; Yamanaka). Duve describes the work of Avedon as containing a “humanist poignancy,” that drives the emotional reaction for viewers gazing at a fellow, innocent, human who has been so devastatingly impacted by war (22). All of these photographers, Tou Yun-Fei, Richard Avedon, Nadar, and Manabu Yamanaka, have utilized the power of their subjects, canine and human alike, to express their pain and narrative based solely on their own gaze, body, and the title.
Roland Barthes discusses the impact of looking at an image containing a subject no longer living with great detail in the book Camera Lucida. The author understands photographers as “agents of Death,” due to the concept that Death is always a factor within society (traditionally through religion), but now the image attempts to preserve the memories (Barthes, 92). As Susan Sontag points out, “To live is to be photographed, to have a record of one’s life, and therefore, to go on with one’s life, oblivious, or claiming to be oblivious, to the camera’s non-stop attentions,” with those images remaining after death (Sontag, The Guardian). In Regarding the Pain of Others Sontag argues that “photographs of the suffering and martyrdom of a people are more than reminders of death, of failure, or victimization. They invoke the miracle of survival”(69). Barthes and Sontag both reveal the importance of the medium at raising the mortality of the viewer. The images discussed within the paper, including the S-21 prisoners, Napalm victims of Vietnam, Neda Adha-Soltan and the euthanized dogs of the Memento Mori series all call attention to the survival of man and raises the spectator’s own anxiety of life; all of the images here do not leave the subjects with choice in their survival or their death, instead it is chosen for them. This understanding of the imposed death further raises the impact on a viewer, for the empathic can feel pity, but “fear usually manages to swap pity,” for the debate of one’s own survival is questioned (59-60) The photographic medium is able to affirm life and death in society, the knowledge that man posses of death enables the medium’s change in context.
Barthes’s understands the reevaluation of an image based on the knowledge of death. As previously discussed, punctum and studium are major points of interest for Barthes, and with regards to the concept of time comes another form of punctum that further reflects man’s mortality. Punctum is the point of interest, the accident, or prick that the viewer is attracted to, but now Barthes labels punctum as being not of form, but of “intensity, of time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (‘that-has-been’)” (Barthes, 95-96). The viewer can identify the punctum as the acknowledgement of time, and the realization of death as inescapable. The Portrait of Lewis Payne is labelled as the exemplification of this in Camera Lucidia, with the knowledge by the viewer of the subject’s place in death row as the punctum (figure 7; Barthes, 96). The imagery of Tou Yun-Fei also utilizes this factor of death and noeme, most directly through the titles that state the time of each dog’s euthanization.
Barthes’s noeme can be based as an effect throughout the history of art due to the knowledge that all portraits throughout history are of those deceased in the present. The photographs of the S-21 victims and the Memento Mori series create a strong reaction with the viewer thanks to the imminent death the individual’s face. The martyrs that have been illustrated throughout time reflect this same sense of impending demise. Jesus Christ has been exemplified as a martyr throughout the development of fine arts in Western society with many of the greatest Western artists portraying his sacrifice of crucifixion to save humanity. The punctum of illustrations of Christ’s crucifixion could be, like Barthes suggests with photography, the knowledge of his looming death. Simplistic illustrations, notably produced by Michelangelo (figure 3), dwell entirely on the emotional intensity of Christ, and occasionally mourners, without environments to distract. When there are living subjects in the works, they are alive to establish the death further by reacting as the viewer’s of the image would, to pass the agony to those living (Drury, 349). This belief by Drury aids in the understanding that it is the knowledge of the death and mortality that remains a punctum for the viewer, similar to Bathes belief of photography.
Michelangelo makes clear the “abandoned stillness of death” (357). This importance of death as the force of an emotional response in works of art can be related to Jill Bennet’s use of memory in art, because the understanding of an individual’s death leads to the comprehension that the images are memories of the deceased. It is the visualizing of memories through artworks, whether photographic, painted, or sketched, that relates to Barthes’s understanding of the artists as an agent of death(Bennet, 3). The devotional works of the Renaissance, and earlier, were to create a sensory impact of to activate the collective memories of those worshiped, such as Christ (3). Bennet also points out the importance of “mnemonic space” for the works of art, not attempting to reform the scene of death through the eye of a witness, but instead through the “heuristic devices designed to facilitate the retrieval of information from the memory” (4). Photography is, of course, a capturing of reality, and the camera is a witness of a moment in time. The lack of background or ‘real’ environment in the “Avedon aesthetic” do aid in the triggering of the subject’s importance and death in the works discussed in this paper. The triggers, in relation to Bennet and Barthes, being the punctum of knowing the dogs are dead now in the Memento Mori series and the close focus of the dogs without distraction, which may enable memories of viewer’s own relationships with animals and relate to the photographs presented.
The aesthetic qualities of such dark subject matter that is presented in this paper could arguably be irrelevant due to the need for the truth, the objective reality of the tragedies documented. The Memento Mori series is produced and exhibited as artwork, not as a journalistic or documentary, although it does document the animal’s existence and death. If the series is art, than an aesthetic purpose was concluded by the artist, which is clear by the use of the “Avedon aesthetic” to provide a greater significance for a viewer. The medium’s aesthetics are unlike other works displaying martyrdom throughout history, for the photograph remains a powerful tool, whether aestheticized or not. Sontag calls attention to the reaction to two images: an etching titled The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus (1588), which presents the chewing off of a man’s head in detail from a dragon; and an image of a soldier’s face being shot off during World War I (34). No matter the grotesque and horror instilled in a viewer from the etching, the emotions drawn from the photographic medium trump, for “there is shame as well as shock in looking at the close-up of a real horror” (34). The photographs by Tou Yun-Fei are beautiful, the aesthetic qualities such as lighting, saturation, and simplistic environment are pleasing to the eye. The images are reminiscent of a painting thanks to the medium of watercolor paper that the images are printed which produces a matt depiction that almost transforms the ink into paint. The images’ beauty does not deteriorate their punctum of death, or the regality, which reflects individuality and human-like personification. The subjects’ stories of closeness to death, based on their titles, remains poignant. The photograph and aesthetics used reflect Sontag’s seeing of a photograph’s ability to transform, “as an image something may be beautiful – or terrifying, or unbearable, or quite, bearable – as it is not in real life” (60). The photographs allow the canines to now be guided to their death after being memorialized at their most beautiful and enrapturing.
The photography of Tou Yun-Fei embraces the dignity and beauty of each individual dog and memorializes them to be a reflection of their community. A contemporary image with the subject providing a singular face for animal-rights and issues, the representation of an individual to reflect a community that is now deceased through stirring a reaction related to death is noted throughout the history of art. The dogs did not choose their roles, but neither did the S-21 prisoners, those victimized by war in Vietnam, or Neda Adha-Soltan, but all of these subjects of photography (whether artistic of documentary) have generated an emotional response for spectators due to the acknowledgement of death, and how the death demonstrates the sorrows of their community. The Memento Mori series generates martyrs of its subjects through the power of the medium photography facilitates in humanity. The animal’s type is irrelevant in this ramification. Man has made creatures of our own kind through history with the exotic of the Other and the canine has proven him or herself to maintain the ethics and justice of man without the prejudice of societies to label or categorize man or beast. Tou Yun-Fei has been able to provide education on a subject that costs lives daily. He has done so by creating a reaction to the dogs that could be compared to the response of depictions of martyrdom throughout the history of art. The power of the camera to transform the despair of a subject’s final moments into an international illustration of a singular dog embodying the horror of all dogs and animals facing similar circumstances exhibits the remarkable medium that photography possesses.
Tou Yun-Fei’s Memento Mori series effectively re-contextualized the subject of a dog’s euthanization into an act of martyrdom through photography, summoning the audience to contemplate mortality and the importance of life, no matter who’s life. The title of the series truly envelopes the beauty and significance of the work, it is not just the dog’s who must face their death, but each of the viewers must as well. The dog’s mirror and call attention to the death of all. The ability to be memorialized in death through the photograph, and call attention to the death of a community is something most will not conquer. The Memento Mori series take’s an inescapable death and recognizes the animal as a singular equal that faces what all of humanity faces, and with a strong nobility and peace that is a welcomed mentality to exhibit by any who await such a fate.