Seen in China 1956: Old Photos of China Daily Life by Tom Hutchins

Sixty years ago in the 1950s, New China was in a nervous period and then closed to most of the world. It was even hard to image that a foreign photographer carrying bags and camera equipment asked a formal requirements of entering the country ---- the New Zealander Tom Hutchins, as an independent freelance photographer, crossed into China from Hong Kong on 9 May 1956.

Tom Hutchins recalled on his book: "On the platform there are many people waiting to cross the other way, waiting for the train back to Hong Kong. No one seems to mind having their pictures taken ..." He kept his camera busy, photographing in his own way and on his own terms.

Not surprisingly, some of his first photographs were relatively tentative and did not get included in his eventual master list, but they were an essential warm-up for the four months of non-stop activity that followed. His study of Chinese history and his social-humanitarian interest in the daily life of the Chinese people was ultimately presented and revealed through his 6,000 photographs.

One-tenth of those eye-witness records was selected by New Zealand photo historian John B Turner and exhibited at the 2016 Pingyao International Festival of Photography in Shanxin Province, China as well as in Xi'an, Shaanxin Province, China in 2017.

Because most of Tom Hutchins' vintage prints from the 1960s were destroyed through careless storage, this exhibition in China consisted of new inkjet enlargements made from digital copies of new gelatine-silver prints made 20 years ago under the photographer's supervision. It included a copy of one of his damaged original contact proof sheets, as a warning about deficient print storage; plus a reprinted proof sheet, to better illustrate the methodology, historical context, and specific intentions of the photographer. From this tiny sampling, however, people can start to see the essence of this precious and unique historical record of China made by the astute foreign observer.

Disembaking ferry, Hunan Province, 1956

Building Yangtze River Bridge at Hankow, Zhejang Province, 1956

Laying railway tracks, Gobi Desert, Kansu Province, China 1956

Peasant farmers in a paddy field, Kwangsi Province,1956

Peasants, and Russian pyjamas, Hunan Province, 1956

Girls training, seamless tube plant, Anshan steel mills, Liaoning Province, 1956

Kids on rooftop of No. 5 Middle School, with Peking skyline, 1956

Musician's wife in her garden, Peking, 1956

Sun Yat Sen Memorial, Canton (Guangzhou Province), China 1956

People resting in heat, resort during Taoist Festival, Sian, Shaanxi Province, China 1956


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