China: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter


To know a country is to know its people. In his new book China: Portrait of a People, photojournalist Tom Carter gives the reader a voyeuristic peek into the lives of a billion people. Arriving from San Francisco in early 2004, Carter spent a year in a town near the Yellow River, before moving to Beijing. Feeling unsettled, and in search of a more meaningful connection with the country in which he was living, he embarked upon a journey that would take him all around China, from Hohhot to Hong Kong, Kashgar to Kunming.

Despite travelling on a limited budget, he successfully traversed the nation, visiting all 33 provinces, and meeting members of the 56 indigenous ethnic groups that make up our 1.3 billion population – plus a few more stragglers along the way. The images veer between the light-hearted (laughing children playing on a sand dune in Gansu), titillating (a pair of female KTV hostesses in Shandong lean in for a kiss), appalling (a mentally ill girl lies in the middle of the road as cars just pass her by), and thought provoking (the worn and sunburned face of a destitute old Tibetan lady). But there is a constant – the peering visages of all ethnicities, of all China.

Through Carter’s journey of self-discovery, we end up discovering a little more about ourselves – and a land so vast, so disparate, that 638 pages of photos barely manage to scratch the surface. Still, Portrait of a People is a very good place to start peeling back the layers. Simon Ostheimer


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