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Portrait of a People

Tom Carter

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Blacksmith Books

Published : 2008

Copyright : Tom Carter 2008

ISBN-10 : PB 9-889979-94-2
ISBN-13 : PB 978-9-889979-94-2

Publisher's Write-Up

The Beijing Olympics focused the world's eyes on China. But despite increased tourism and rampant foreign investment, the cultural distance between China and the West remains as vast as the oceans that separate them.

The Middle Kingdom is still relatively unknown by Westerners. China is in fact made up of 33 distinct regions populated by 56 ethnic groups - and American photojournalist Tom Carter has visited them all. This little book is a visual tribute to the People's Republic of China, with an ardent emphasis on the People.

'Getting a full picture of China - a vast country with an enormous population, a place that is experiencing sweeping cultural and economic changes - is, of course, impossible. But Tom Carter comes close. It’s a remarkable book, compact yet bursting with images that display the diversity of a nation of 56 ethnic groups.'

San Francisco Chronicle

'Part of the strength of this book is its independent spirit. It’s not a travel guide showing China dressed in its Sunday best, or a photojournalistic approach documenting the underbelly of the country, but rather a peek at the sights Carter has seen and a corrective to both the glowing promotional images and negative Western media shots that we are all familiar with. For instance, if you were to make a pilgrimage to Mount Tai for the sunrise you would likely be one of many thousands doing the same and this is the image Carter presents - hordes of people dressed in green army overcoats - not the typical picture postcard view.'

China Daily

'Travel photos taken by a stranger seldom fascinate. But 800 color images captured by Tom Carter as he spent two years on the road, traveling 56,000 kilometers through all of China's 33 provinces, make a dramatic exception ... Carter's weighty book takes an effort to carry home from a store. But anyone interested in China should love owning it.'

Cairns Media Magazine
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Jake Avery (301110) Rating (8/10)

Review by Jake Avery
Rating 8/10
I am what one calls an 'Armchair Traveller', meaning someone who prefers not to leave the comfortable confines of my den whilst I explore the world. Oh, I tried it a few times back in my youth, but the heat and the smells and the confusion were always a bit much for me, so I turned to literature. My bookshelves are a testament to this: they are crammed with hardbound coffee-table books dating back to the 1970s.

Travel photographer Tom Carter’s new book China: Portrait of a People has succeeded in doing what those other coffee-table books have never fully managed to do: transport me across Earth to a country I have yet to actually visit.

I only recently became interested in China. What with all the news about their economy and progress, China is a country almost impossible to avoid these days. So I caved and ordered a selection of books from, including the standard fare from National Geographic and other fixtures in world exploration. Based on a suggestion, I also bought Carter’s Portrait of a People, 638-pages of cover-to-cover travel photography of one of the largest countries in the world. That alone should give you an idea of how massive this book is. I counted over 800 photographs total, which is about three times as many as the standard coffee-table book. It took me over two weeks to finish reading. The visual adventure that is China Portrait of a People spans 33 chapter with approximately 25 colour pictures per chapter, along with accompanying captions, maps and province history, all written by Carter.

We begin in China’s capital city, Beijing, where ancient homes inhabited by the locals are being demolished so that the Communist government can generate higher tax revenue on apartment towers. We also witness an elderly couple merrily celebrating their 55th marriage anniversary, and a gorgeous young lady in a pink cheongsam demurring from Carter’s camera, all the more stunning for her shyness. We follow Carter’s camera to North China, where a record-breaking blizzard has turned an entire city, Shenyang, into a white apocalypse; the photographer was on location merely by coincidence. In Shanghai we catch a final glimpse of the old town still standing stubbornly against a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers. Prostitutes bearing voluptuous chests welcome Carter into their threshold; meanwhile a legless youth writes calligraphy on the sidewalk with chalk as a means of earning alms.

China: Portrait of a People continues across South China, where fashionable Hong Kong youth dance in the city streets, Africans loiter in front of their immigrant ghetto, and Tanka fisherman scream their catch from the bow of their boat. On the island of Hainan, a boy is swallowed up by a room full of coconuts, and ethnic Li and Miao people dressed in a rainbow of hand-woven attire tell the plight of their minority status. Onward to the jungles of Guizhou, where a wooden village named Zengchong stands oblivious to the urban progress China so often boasts of in the press. Up to Central China, Carter captures a pregnant woman in Hebei who proudly reveals her naked belly. In Gongtan, a brother and sister watch with quiet despair as their 1,700 year-old mountain village is bulldozed by government developers scheming to construct a power plant. In Xinjiang, Muslim Chinese called Uyghur carry on their Central-Asian customs despite gentrification efforts by the Han. Carter’s epic tour concludes with Tibet, where he ventured to the farthest outposts in every direction to record nomadic shepherds and Buddhist pilgrims living just as they have for thousands of years.

No, China: Portrait of a People was not shot by a team of professional photojournalists; it was photographed solely by a single person. Tom Carter, an American travel photographer, lived in China for over 4 years, and spent half that time backpacking across the country’s 33 provinces to create this colossal collection of photography. He has achieved in this book what National Geographic has yet to accomplish. I have been a subscriber to NG for over thirty years, so I say this with relative certainty.

I am reluctant to even call this a coffee-table book. It is so much more than that. It is a record of history-in-the-making. The photographs are documentary in their purpose; they have no agenda and no ulterior motive. China: Portrait of a People is exactly that: a portrait of an entire culture which is divided up by 56 ethnic groups spanning 3,705,406 square miles.

In short, this book IS China.
Jake Avery (30th November 2010)

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