Best Work by an Emerging Photographer | Nominee

Claudia Hettwer


Celebration - walt disney´s magical town


Who could ever have imagined the wonderfully harmonious Utopian worlds of the Disney movies we were carried away to so often in our childhood could ever exist in reality. On my trip through the US state of Florida, the worlds of fantasy and dreams suddenly became real, the moment I arrived in Celebration. Walt Disney’s dream of creating the perfect small-town, complete with optimum conditions under an umbrella of pure harmony, was realised brick-by -brick here in the Sunshine State in 1994 – with fewer than 10,000 residents, all of whom live according to their own community rules and habits and thus keep their picture-book township alive. That’s why my choice for a community portrait was made so easy by the first impressions. Because, the spotless tidiness and cream-coloured facades of the ‘Bubble’, as it is affectionately described by its residents, are as unrealistic at first glance as they are magical to the second . For me, it was as if the place was just made for what I had in mind, as my photography is often characterised by pastel shades. The town set the stage for my productions and its people became actors in my own Disney film. In exactly the same way as Celebration is a stage for all its residents. Nevertheless, they may be living in a Disney dream, but they interpret it in their own special way and see it as the shooting script for their own, personal production of ‘Fantasia’. Another reason for my decision to shoot the town from my own, personal point of view. Out of focus elements in the foreground and exaggerated colours symbolise the surreality that characterises the ‘Town without a history’. My photographic documentation of the Disney-town is not to be seen classical photojournalism, but rather freely interpreted according to Walt Disney’s principle of ‘If you can dream it you can do it’. But this doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like in Celebration. Quite a few unusual rules and regulations create the basis for the clean and tidy look of the place. Several of these are hardly comprehensible for the likes of us simple dreamers who live outside in the ‘real world’ – but are essential if your bladder is bursting. For instance, any changes to the exteriors of the houses is a s good as forbidden, and even the number of plants you can grow in your garden is precisely defined. Even the colour of the curtains is strictly defined: they must be white. But the residents of celebration seem to enjoy taking take this all in into account. I have rarely experienced such social harmony and open-minded community spirit. Even when faced with nosy tourists, like me. Maybe its the wonderful look of the place that makes the residents so happy and the fact that they will never be annoyed by the neighbours, missing refuse bins or traffic signals that don’t work. Or maybe it’s the sun that shines longer on Florida than anywhere else in the world. Or maybe even the fact that so many Disney fans live there. Because, in his day, Walt Disney was always a believer in a conservative way of life, and most of all in a happy end. I discovered so many positive aspects on my visit to the town and was always surrounded by most happy and satisfied people. For example, perfect strangers invited me to share Thanksgiving with them and I stayed in the house of a couple I met in the café. I had the opportunity to visit a Disney comic artist and watch him at work and let myself be entertained by magical music played by the town’s own ‘Celebration-Band’, which is, of course, also a charitable organisation. And even when I strolled through Celebration’s lovingly cared-for park, I often saw happy kissing couples who were old enough to be my grandparents. A truly moving sight. And if that were not sugary enough, I often enjoyed delicious free biscuits on my frequent visits to the ‘Sweet Escape’ Café. Looking back, I can’t really say much about the American Dream , but at least I now know what it means to live in one of Walt Disney’s dreams. The dream every child dreams – and one that makes quite a few adults wish they would never wake up again.