Tom Carter’s photography book CHINA: Portrait of a People (second printing 2013, Blacksmith Books) is a remarkable photo-essay of China today, broad in scope and comprehensive of subject. Even when contrasted with the work of his predecessors, discussed below, there is something more about this book: a remarkable depth of insight, understanding, and feeling that Carter (1973-), an indigent wanderer from San Francisco, acquired for a people whose language he knew only slightly at the time he took the photos. Anyone able to overcome barriers to communication without knowing the language is an extraordinary person.
Of the 100+ reviews on Amazon already posted, many readers regard Carter’s Portrait as a surprising view into a “rapidly disappearing” China as the country dynamically thrusts forward into the new millennia. However, as the photos of John Thompson, Felice Beato, and other photographers of the 19th century are my point of departure, their work compared to Portrait illustrates substantially greater changes in China than any since 1949. Memory of more recent changes seems concentrated in metropolitan areas and along the coastlands rather than in the hinterland traipsed by Carter; perhaps such changes appear weighty because of a foreshortened time scale and accelerated development.
It is unusual for a book to be a revelation for such a broad spectrum of readers as CHINA, Portrait of a People has been: besides travelers who have never been to China, and expat residents proud of their knowledge of the country yet unfamiliar with the greater landscape, the book has revealed to native Chinese much of their own country they knew little about. The book expands boundaries, reveals “undiscovered countries,” and is likely to rouse from their indifference to China almost anyone who looks through these photos. Continue reading