《New Philosopher》 issue 26
Nov. 2019 issue 26

Photographer/Interviewee: Gao Rongguo
Interviewer: Zan Boag

Zan Boag: What prompted you to undertake the series of photographs in your work 'Identical Twins’?
Rongguo Gao :I was born in Shandong province and went to two primary schools, two middle schools, and five high schools.Sometimes, just when I had adapted to an environment, I then had to go to another place. Most people knew me during the transfer period; however, it was very ; for me to remember everyone.
What impressed me most was that there were three pairs of twins among my classmates and each of them had a different fate. One of the twins went to college but the other one kept trying for more than ten years but still failed.People often compared them and there is no doubt that it would bring strong pressure to their lives.
This is my basic memory of the twins I know. In 2005,during which I was experiencing the torturous college entrance examination preparation, upon the recommendation of others I read The History of Western Philosophy, which discusses St Augustine's statement in Confessions, using the fates of twin brothers to criticise astrology- and it was really fascinating to me. It was not an original argument by St.Augustine, but derived from the Greek skeptic Carneades,one of the leaders in Plato's garden, who said, People born at the same time, differ in temperament and fate." When I entered college, I noticed that many people around me were attracted by astrology, so that their understanding of other people was entirely preconceived. I inevitably fall into a certain constellation, which is certainly not as honourable as a star being named after you. If we see in this way, then our natures have all been determined since we were born.
Therefore, I wanted to do a project based on twins, whose ages were limited to being older than 50 years old, to find out how they had changed. In fact, I learnt this from a saying of Confucius's: “Fifty to know the fate." There are different explanations about fate, but the fifties is often called the time to know what it is. People always thought that my work should have been a documentary. However, I do not know what is more real. With photography it is difficult to be exactly 'real'. For example, if you add up or take away the exposure only for a little bit, you would get two results;looking up or looking down would produce different feelings. So it is hard to tell what is real and what is not. What you see is nothing other than a phenomenon. All I could do is to process the objective thing in a subjective way. That being said, even if what the audience sees from my work is not exactly what I expected, an explanation isn't necessary because a misreading is not necessarily a bad thing.
Topics on twins are clichés as many artists have already used them as material for their creation. Choosing this topic does not make it innovative, and although many objected, I still decided to give it a try. I believe it is like cooking - it would be acceptable if I made the same dish
in a different way.
After a number of repetitive experiments, I determined the form of my work: face- -to-face. However, does the form really matter? During the returning visits, models refused to accept the pictures I took from side-on. It made me feel that I did something interesting. Perhaps it is related to our culture. In fact, this face-to-face form is very common in Italy. Some portraits of couples follow this form and some people still adhere to this tradition even now. Face-to-face is more like seeing yourself in the mirror - regarding people as a mirror, one could know what he or she has owned or lost and could see himself or herself. This project has been going since January 16, 2011 and doing quick tours of 511 different villages has given me a different experience.

Zan Boag:In referring to your series of photographs and fate, you quote Greek philosopher Carneades: "People born at the same time, differ in temperament and fate." To what degree did you find that the fates of the twins in your photographs differed?
Rongguo Gao : There are different degrees of difference, big and small.At first, they may look very similar, but twins are always two different people. They will have independent ideas, different personalities and habits, different perspectives on things,and their life experiences will not be exactly the same. For example, some have become disabled in accidents, causing hunchbacks; some have not married; some have been raised by other families since childhood;some need to take care of their children with Down's syndrome; others have already died. Especially for women, marrying different families will defnitely make a difference.

Zan Boag: You also quote Confucius to explain why you chose older twins: "Fifty to know the fate". Do you think we can tell how a person has lived from their face at fifty?
Rongguo Gao : It is difficult to tell how a person has lived from a person's expression. It is even more difficult to understand а person's life through a photo. For example, the models in the paintings or the actors in the movies, they make people look a certain way, just role- playing, and this does not rule out a lot of deception.

Zan Boag:Inevitably people change over the course of their lives, from birth to death. Are we able to control who we become?
Rongguo Gao : We may play different roles in our lives. It is not so easy to acquire the identity of our dreams. It is even more dificult to direct your life. There are many unpredictable things in life.

Zan Boag:Do you think our life cbances are determined by our family, our genetic makeup, our environment, or a combination of these factors?
Rongguo Gao : I think it is determined by a combination of these factors. The problem of nature versus nurture is always the focus of debate. When we are born, we are not equal. In societies with caste and class differences, some people lose their rights simply because of their background. Their race, gender, or religion deprives them of important life opportunities. Therefore, the influence of our environment can not be ignored. Even in an equal society, we will still face the problem of being judged, and there is not necessarily an opportunity to be treated fairly everywhere. From a nature' perspective, ordinary families might give birth to a genius, but genius children might be extremely ordinary.If you pursue the best' genes blindly, you will face a huge problem, that is: Wbat is perfect? We can't achieve perfection. If others' innate conditions are not good, we can provide corresponding help, create a good environment, and let them have better opportunities. After all, none of us in this world exists in isolation.

Zan Boag: Your photos, of course, focus on physical differences. To what extent do you think the twins lives have been different from an emotional and psychological perspective?
Rongguo Gao :Although I photographed them, I don't know much about them. I can tell one thing: in the process of shooting, some of the identical twins were relatively nervous,and they were in a hostile state :for a long time. They were not willing to take a group photo together. Therefore, I finally took the format of face- to-face separation, so that the two people looked like they were facing each other. I sometimes think that in life, would identical twins be upset with people treating them as one person? Would they deliberately distinguish themselves from one another?

Zan Boag: English writer Neil Gaiman said that “wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” Do you think we are stuck with the person we are, or can we change who we are?
Rongguo Gao :It is not easy to know yourself. Situations will affect the way we think about ourselves to some extent. Although an understanding of ourselves can be obtained through the opinions of others, we will inevitably deviate from our own interpretation and external evaluations of who we are. We constantly change our identity in our lives, either actively or passively, and even after death, our identity will change. The unchanging self does not exist. Our bodies, hearts, emotions, and even quirks, they are constantly changing, but to some extent, I am the same, I am still the same. This is a problem that has plagued humanity for many years. Am I the same person I used to be? Just like the classic Ship of Theseus, when all the old parts were changed, was it still the original ship? Reorganising the old parts into an identical ship, also called 'the ship',is that one the real ship? Looking back to ourselves, we could lose our memories, we could dress up as others, we could transplant other people's brains, we could undergo sex-change surgery, and the whole body's cells could be updated again... Is there is a critical point at which we change? Is it not me?

《新哲人》 issue 26
2019年11月刊 第26期

Zan Boag:是什么促使你拍摄了《同卵双胞胎》这一系列的照片?

高荣国:我出生在山东,上过2 所小学、2所初中、5所高中,有时刚对一个环境适应,就又必须去另一个地方,在转学过程中,被大多数人所认识,而我却很难记住所有人。印象比较深的是,我的同学中有3对双胞胎,每对都有不同的命运,有的其中一个上了大学,另一个坚持了10多年也没有考上,人们时常拿他们作对比,当然,这会给他们的生活造成巨大压力。以上算是我对所认识的双胞胎的一些记忆。2005 年,当时我还在痛苦的复读生活中,经人推荐,读了西方哲学史,里面描述圣.奥古斯丁在《忏悔录》和《上帝之城》中用孪生兄弟问题大事抨击占星学的故事对我有极强的吸引力,考上大学后,发现周围的人好多都喜欢“星座”,与人交往时也用这个理论去做判断,对人的理解完全是先入为主的。我不可避免的被归入某一星座,这当然不是把某个星星用你的名字命名那样让人觉得很光彩的事,按这种判断,也许一个人从出生就被定性了……于是,我想做一个关于双胞胎的课题,把年龄锁定在50岁以上,找寻他们的变化。实际上借用了孔子的“五十而知天命”,天命有不同的解释,但五十岁通常被称为知命之年。总有人认为我的作品应当是纪实的,我不懂什么是纪实,更不懂什么更真实。摄影本来就很难真实,曝光加一点或减一点,我们得到两个结果,仰视俯视又是不同的感觉,很难说哪个给你的是真实的,我们看到的只是个现象。我能做的,都是对客观的东西做主观的处理,即使观众从作品得到的并非都是我所预想的,那我也不需要太多解释,误读不一定是坏事。
经过反复的实验后,我确定了现在作品的形式—面对面,那形式到底重不重要呢?在回访的时候,有的模特拒绝接受我拍的侧面照片,这反而让我觉得自己做了一件有意思的事。也许这与我们的文化有关,其实这种面对面的形式在意大利很常见,有些夫妻像就是这样的,现在有的还在坚持这种传统。面对面更像是在照镜子,“以人为镜,可以知得失,照见自己”。这个项目自2011年1月16日开始拍摄至今,匆匆忙忙的调查了511个村子,给了我一个不一样的经历。当这个作品完成后,突然感觉跟余光中的《乡愁》有些类似,“这头” 、“那头”、“坟墓”、“外头”、“里头”···· 




Zan Boag:在谈到你的一系列照片和命运时,你引用希腊哲学家卡涅阿德斯的话:“同一时刻出生的人,其气质命运迥然不同。”你发现照片中双胞胎的命运有多大程度上的不同?


Zan Boag:你引用孔子的话来解释为什么选择年长的双胞胎,你认为我们能从一个人50岁时的面貌看出他过得怎么样吗?


Zan Boag:在人的一生中,从出生到死亡,不可避免地会发生变化。我们能控制自己成为什么样的人吗?


Zan Boag:你认为我们的生活机会是由我们的DNA.我们的基因组成,我们的环境,还是这些因素的组合决定的?

高荣国: 我认为是这些因素组合决定的。先天和后天的问题,一直是争论的焦点。希特勒时期,纳粹医生用双胞胎做实验,想看看先天和后天到底哪一个更重要,当时忽略了同卵和异卵的区别,很多人当了实验品。讽刺的是,现在有个犹太科学家,也在做双胞胎实验,涉及表观遗传学啊行为遗传学啊等等,有的具体到,双胞胎住上下铺会不会影响他们的命运。我们一出生就是不平等的,甚至在有种姓和等级差别的社会中,有些人会仅仅因为他们的出生背景就失去各种权利。他们的种族、性别或宗教,使得他们被剥夺了重要的生活机会.因此,后天环境的因素不可忽视。即使在机会平等的社会,我们也会面临评判标准的问题,能力并不是在哪里都能够享受公平对待。仅从先天的角度来看,普通的家庭可能会生出天才,天才的孩子却有可能极其普通。如果一味的追求优秀基因,就会面临一个巨大的问题,那就是什么是完美。我们不可能达到完美。别人的先天条件不好,我们可以提供相应的帮助,营造一个好的环境,让他们有更好的机会,毕竟我们任何人在这个世界上都不是孤立存在的。

Zan Boag:当然,你的照片注重的是身体上的差异。从情感和心理角度来看,你认为这对双胞胎的生活有多大程度的不同?


Zan Boag:英国作家尼尔盖曼说过:“无论你走到哪里,你都带着你自己。”你认为我们是被我们是谁束缚住了,还是我们能改变我们是谁?

高荣国: 认识自己并不是一件容易的事,情境在某种程度上会影响我们看待自我和思考自我的方式。虽然我们对自己的了解可以通过他人对我们的看法来获得,但是,我们对自己的评价和外界对我们的评价,不可避免地会有偏差。我们在生活中不断变换身份,或主动或被动,甚至死后身份也会改变。一成不变的自己是不存在的。我们的肉体、心灵、情感,甚至怪癖,它们也时刻在变化,然而从某种程度上说,我又是不变的,我还是一样的我。这就要面对一个困扰人类很多年的问题,那过去的我和现在的我是不是同一个人?就像经典的忒修斯之船问题,当所有的旧零件都换了,那还是不是原来那艘船?将旧零件重新组成一艘一模一样的船,也命名为忒修斯船,那到底哪艘才是真正的忒修斯船?回到我们自身,我们可能会失去记忆,可能会整容成别人的模样,可能会移植别人的大脑,可能会做变性手术,可能全身细胞都会更新一遍......如果存在 一个临界点,我们改变到哪里才算不是我了?