Scott Newett undertook his BA in photography at RMIT ‘too long ago to remember’, and has built a career as a sought-after commercial photographer over the past 25 years. Like many of his contemporaries, Scott’s passion for his craft is extended and explored by a commitment to personal projects. The latest of which is ‘Tao Chien’, a series of photographs inspired by what you would consider a pretty atypical obsession for the lensman behind unforgettable beverage campaigns. Fuelling his interest in the ‘banal beauty in the forced awkwardness’ of North Korean propaganda, Scott set out to create photographs in China with the same sort of mood.
Working with his assistant, Haydn Cattach, he trawled through Google satellite maps to find ex-military bases, theme parks, aeronautical museums and storage areas – in a Lion-esque fashion. When the pair arrived in China for 10 days of shooting, some of Scott’s most memorable captures actually proved to be completely unexpected, such as the blue rocket at Daodan Xiaotangshanzhen. ‘We couldn’t have specced the colour combination any better: almost pastel blue on green on more blues, with the smog filled sky,’ he describes. ‘Then, right as we are shooting, the crew from inside the museum walk by, all together, all perfectly in sync, in another layer of blue!’
From Beijing, down to Guanzhou, then Nanjicun and back, one of the most captivating stops was Nanjiecun in Linying County, Henan province, which is widely reported as being the last Maoist village in China. ‘At 06:15 every morning, the air is suddenly full of songs of praise for China’s mighty former leader, Mao Zedong. The anthems blare forth up and down the empty streets, from loudspeakers on every lamp post,’ details Scott. ‘There is a square with a big statue of Mao, and posters of other communist heroes, Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin… Nanjiecun is a place where time seems to have stood still, or even gone backwards.’ This particular locale had a profound effect on Scott, driving home a conflicting duality he began to sense was permeating the country.
‘When you think about China, one in seven people on Earth live there, so it’s got to be pretty significant and influential, but in reality, it’s so far removed from what we in the West consider “normal”,’ reflects the photographer, who endeavoured to present unresolved narrative combinations by capturing the discarded ‘toys’ of mankind, a culture of custom, and hints of opening up. Another catalyst, was China’s excessive pollution, which set the stage for the hauntingly desaturated compositions, shot with only ambient daylight.
Scott enlisted his PhaseOne IQ380MP camera and Cambo WideRS lens to create images so detailed they honestly have to be seen to be believed. Sixteen of these photographs, all in editions of 10, can be witnessed in an exhibition opening tomorrow at FINI Gallery in Melbourne. The photographer has also worked with local design studio Ortolan with the support of Ball and Doggett, Bambra Printing, and Ethnolink Translation Services to create an amazing hardcover to accompany this series. Produced in a limited edition of just 200, 100% of all proceeds from sales go to Giant Steps Melbourne, an educational charity supporting children and young adults with autism.
There’s still a few amazing places on Scott’s wish list, like Czech Republic and sites of the Soviet Space Program! ‘I just don’t know where my next adventure will take me as yet… definitely somewhere a little odd,’ he tells. ‘My wife and family are not at all keen on me visiting North Korea!’