I want to share with anyone that might read this how much I enjoyed Tom Carter’s new photography book “CHINA: Portrait of a People”. I ordered the book because I recently returned from China and could not get enough of the life style I had just experienced. When I first received the book from Amazon I thought it was quite a unique size for a book of photography, but once I started looking at it I really enjoyed the small size in my hand; it made it easy to just sit on the couch with book in hand.
Carter’s 640-page book is divided into 33 chapters, one for each province, and before each chapter are his recollections of his difficulties traveling to the regions as well as episodes where Chinese individuals (see “I, Shen Mei Li,” page 134) are allowed to speak for themselves, as well as fragments of poetry and other uniquely Chinese related material, some gritty, some even grotesque.
With a country as big as China, there’s a lot to see and Tom Carter provides a vast array of images and views – glimpses of a country on the cusp of a sweeping transformation: a great nation that still identifies as Communist while embracing new Capitalist ways. These photos then also provide historical artifacts as modernization plows away thousands of years of history.
Favorite images? Hard to pick since there are so many. The photo-illustrated journey starts at Beijing (‘the epicenter of the “center of the world,”’ as Tom Carter writes) and concludes with Tibet (“Middle of nowhere, center of everywhere”). With more than 600 pages in between. (The images in this final section – Tibet – are among the most emotionally compelling and beautiful of the book.)
Of the places I’d like to go back and visit on account of Carter’s book, top of the list would be Tibet and places like the Portuguese-influenced Macau, and of course Beijing (“Chaoyang”). Then: remote Heilongjiang (“Harbin”), Inner Mongolia (which is one of the most beautiful sections of the book), coastal Shandong (birthplace of Confucius), Jiangsu (with its sad and bloody history of Japanese invasion), Fujian, Guangdong (“Dapu”), of course Hong Kong (for its urban, multi-cultural variety), Guangxi ( “Zhongliu”), Guizhou (“Zengchong”), Anhui (“Mukeng Zhuhai,” the Bamboo Sea where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was shot), Hunan (“Zhangjiajie” and “Fenghaung”), Henan (“Song Shan” for its 800-year-old Shaolin temple and its ancient association with Kung Fu), Shaabxu (“Xi’an” for the Bingmayong vault), Gansu (“Hexi” and “Langmusi” for its Tibetan yet almost Peruvian-appearing culture), Sichuan (“Jiuzhaigou” and “Emei Shan”), Yunnan (“Lijiang”)…
China is an unavoidable nation in the 21st century. It is no longer simply a topic for adventure-seeking travelers or businessmen and diplomats. Even if you have never been to China or know little about it, it is affecting your life in ways large and small. And it will surely only do so more in the years ahead. Tom Carter’s China: Portrait Of A People is a fine place to start peeking behind the silk curtain at this fascinating country. And unlike a dry foreign affairs book, this book has the added bonus of teaching you about China while providing a feast for the eyes with its lush visual spectacle.