Photographer Visits 33 Provinces in China Over Two Years

old lady sitting in a field

If there’s one thing I love, it’s seeing a photographer strip down to the very basics and still be capable of producing some stellar images. You’d think that with all the equipment and accessories we have at our disposal today, we’d be able to produce more profound images, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Photographer Tom Carter makes a brilliant case against gearheads who blame their gear (or lack of) for their shortcomings.

Carter went backpacking all over China, visiting more than 33 provinces and seeing 56 different cultures in one unforgettable trip. Traveling over 35,000 miles, he was bound to come across a lot of interesting characters, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that he shot over 10,000 portraits. Two years of backpacking seems a little ambitious to me, but he forged on with just a 4-megapixel compact camera in tow.

photo of chinese forest

chinese woman wearing headpiece

landscape photo of chinese province

In an interview conducted by the China Travel Blog, he talks about how using a point and shoot had its advantages and disadvantages during his travels:

The camera I was using—an old-school digital point and shoot—had its limitations, so naturally I missed a lot of candid shots that required rapid shutter release, low-light abilities or a telephoto lens. But this just forced me to get up close and personal with my subjects (for the portraits I was as near to them as you see in the photo, just centimeters away), so [my project] ironically benefited from my limitations.

No bulky DSLRs and fragile lenses here. That would have been difficult to lug around as he traveled by motorcycle, train, boat, bus, mule, and on foot.

He spent most of his nights in cheap guesthouses that cost only $1-3 per night. At that price, I doubt if he had a hot tub, Egyptian cotton sheets or even a private room. This allowed him to pay more attention to details and forge relationships with people he met along the way.

photo of young chinese girl and old man

photo of mature chinese man and woman

chinese minority cultures

Carter shot landscape and architectural photos as he traveled, but he was also able to capture several minority cultures that are rarely shown in media.

As for the destinations in China that are often overlooked, Carter shares his insights:

I was truly surprised to find that every Chinese province has distinct terrain and architecture as well as unique culture. China is like 33 siblings, sharing the same blood yet each with their own personalities and appearance. But it takes a discerning traveler to uncover this dissimilarity; if you just breeze through the usual tourist highlights, of course you’ll miss it.

portrait young chinese girl in braids

Pick up a copy of his book CHINA: Portrait of a People which contains 888 photos shot during h is backpacking trip through China.

Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.