For a country of 1.3 billion people, Scott Newett’s photographic portrait of China is conspicuously devoid of people, presenting the landscape and fixtures of the country through which he wanders as a seemingly unmanned man-made wilderness.
There is a sense of simultaneous utopia and dystopia, with the notion of pristine and tranquil idealism juxtaposed against the chilly desolation throughout the shots. Museums feature heavily in the series as if archival monuments of the achievements of man, left behind. They are depicted in the series alongside colossal urban architectural fixtures – motorway flyovers, rollercoasters at a theme park and a passenger plane – similarly devoid of city-like hustle and bustle.
Simultaneously soft and rigid, dreamlike and austere, Scott captures the country in muted hues of blue, green and grey. Occasional splashes of desaturated orange seen in the basketball courts and the side of an aeroplane serve only to augment this phantasmagorical aesthetic.
Likewise the toys of mankind – engines, ballistic missiles and fighter jets – stand centric, representing what the photographer calls, “a country grappling with new western ideals on a foundation of secrecy, oppression and nationalistic pride.”
“There is an unexpected quietness about China, in a country with a billion citizens there is a pervading emptiness in a lot of spaces and buildings, the unending ivy and vegetation that consumes structures belies the polluted idea we have for China; expectation versus reality,” he explains.
Scott names the series Tao Chien after the reclusive Chinese poet of the same name. “Both his work and his lifestyle were a conflicting duality; a mixture of rural solitude and government visibility, of military force and spiritual withdrawal,” says Scott.