Artist documents Bengaluru hip hop scene

German photographer and BangaloREsident, Paul Hutchinson captures the city’s hip hop scene and its nuances on film

August 07, 2015 04:42 pm | Updated March 29, 2016 01:49 pm IST - Bengaluru

City beats and rhythms

City beats and rhythms

Does the term hip hop bring to mind the image of a stout man wearing loose clothes, gold chains and, perhaps, a cap turned backwards? This visual cliché is exactly what German photographer, Paul Hutchinson, tried to avoid when he decided to do a project on hip hop culture. “I want to look at it from a different perspective. What is beneath the layers? For instance, who is that guy, why does he wear a gold chain?” says Paul, who was in the city for a month as part of the BangaloREsidency programme by Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan. His work here included studying the youth subculture and exploring the hip hop scene in the city. His photographs, taken during his time here, were exhibited at 1 Shanti Road recently.

While in Bengaluru, he got in touch with different hip hop groups and rappers, accompanied them to gigs and photographed them. “More than documenting, I wanted to show the passion in them.” However, Paul asserts that hip hop is just the surface or context of his work. “I’m not just talking about hip hop but also about similar dreams and ambitions.” It may sound strange to hear him saying, “I want to know what it feels and smells like.” So, what does hip hop smell like? “Sweat, skin, closeness and fried chicken, I think.”

Talking about his fascination for the genre, Paul recalls, “It was very much the thing we did, while growing up. We listened to a lot of hip hop, which helped create a bond with others and entirely redefined my youth. We’d go to gigs or other places, all the while listening to the beats. It helped me feel connected to people.” His friends in the West were surprised to hear this culture is prevalent in India. “Hip hop in India has a very strong community. Even though it feels very recent, they are in touch with their contemporaries and aware of what’s happening within the country.” He firmly believes it is important for these artistes to have their own voice instead of stepping into the shoes of European or American counterparts.

While he finds Bengaluru “crazy and interesting”, he also thinks it’s important for the city to redefine itself. “Some people want Bengaluru to be something it’s not; they are trying to push and pull. But that’s not to say that it has lost its identity.” He is also curious about how the city functions. “The traffic here is crazy and, I feel, it can act on your behaviour. For instance, the vehicles try to find alternative routes when stuck somewhere. It’s interesting how a large part of the population deals with these issues.”

Born in Berlin, Paul studied at the University of the Arts Berlin and Central Saint Martins University of Art and Design, London. His interest in photography began when he was around 21. “The camera fell into my lap and I fell in love with it. I’d always find myself in the darkroom while my friends would be at the beach.” He loves the flexibility that photography as a platform offers. “It can be so simple and clear, and equally complex. It always surprises me that a thought can make sense within an image! I still have no idea what I’m doing; I think I’ll always be trying to figure it out.”

From painter, Peter Doig, and conceptual artist, Alicja Kwade, to photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans, Paul’s inspiration comes as much from artists and painters as from photographers. Ask him what qualities a photographer should essentially possess and he lists out, “Curiosity, for sure. Critical thinking, including the practice of questioning everything you see, an individual sense of aesthetic so you don’t repeat anything and finally, theoretical knowledge, especially of your chosen field.”

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