Scene Sur / Real Seen
Since photography’s inception in the early nineteenth century, people have been captivated by its ability to portray reality. People were able to see new lands, people of different cultures, and many other experiences that they could have never seen under any other circumstance. However, once photography became more accessible to the general public, people learned that a photographer had the ability to manipulate what appears to be true. Since this discovery there has been constant debate about whether photographs are true representations of reality or not. Many artists today use this to their advantage and thrive.on the fact that viewers can never be sure whether the photograph is an accurate depiction.of reality or a clever ploy implemented by the photographer to alter the viewer’s perception of a situation. Jeff Hutchens has been creating work on the surreality of life in China for the past few.years in a series called Scene Sur / Real Seen. These works are a perfect example of a photographer’s ability to alter a person’s perception of reality.
Hutchens captures what he calls “quiet moments in China’s obscure corners” in dream-like photographs that make China seem like an entirely different world than the one we, as Americans, live in. Although the people in the images are doing normal daily activities, like riding a bike, walking to work, or attending a party, the way the images are captured make the viewer feel distanced from the person in the image. The person in front of them makes the viewer feel as though they are different, and the person pictured is an other in a foreign world where nothing is quite as is at home. Many Americans are pictured with something that allows other people to identify with them, such as a baseball cap supporting their favorite sports team, a famous restaurant behind them, their beloved dog, or their place of work. None of the people pictured in the images shot in China have an identity. Because of this, China appears to be a cold place where no one is particularly friendly; a place where the identity of the individual is lost to the mass of the country and the day to day life of the commoner.
In Figure 1, the men pictured are clearly in an urban environment because of the tall apartment building and decaying blue fence, which are the main focus of the photograph. The men in the image are stripped of their identities- you cannot see their faces, what they’re wearing, or even where they’re going. The dark tones and soft focus augment the somber, isolated feeling of the image. The individuals in Figure 2 remain nameless, without identity, and without purpose; they simply show the comings and goings of the vast number of people that pass through the vividly colored space, and represent the masses immersed in their culture; who are no longer seen as individuals. Figure 3 shows a large group of people at what appears to be a party or festival celebrating the people’s heritage, which once again puts the individual into a non-individualized group. The identity of the people is lost to their environment, which Hutchens effectively conveys throughout this series of images.
Hutchen’s work is often a hybrid between documentary-style photography and fine art photography. This shooting style worked to his advantage in this series because those who have viewed his work before know him as a straight-forward artist and wouldn’t expect him to create such an opinionated piece of work. Although the images appear dream-like, romantic, and pleasant at first, after looking at the images for some period of time, the viewer realizes how disconnected they are from the people photographed throughout.the entire series and eventually become disenchanted with it all.
Although China has its faults, just as every other country, it is often thought to be a colorful, bustling, center of the world, with interesting and important people; however in this series it is depicted as a lonely, impersonal place, with impolite and miserable people; which is why this series is a perfect example of the photographer’s ability to alter one’s perception of reality.