Thomas Antoni Carter, 35, a freelance photojournalist from San Francisco, US, recently published his first book.
Instead of similar photo books, China: Portrait of a People (published by Blacksmith Books, 635 pages, 280 yuan) is a more portable volume. Rather than focus on geographic, landscape or sight-seeing photos, Carter focuses on the distinct features and lifestyles that define the nation’s 56 ethnic groups collected in 33 provinces.Beijing Today (BT): How did you communicate with locals when you asked to photograph them?
Thomas Antoni Carter (TC): The first year across China was my solo backpacking expedition across the 33 provinces, which was my own personal discovery of China as a country. I forced myself into absolute immersion by traveling and interacting with the local populace of each province. Speaking only a semblance of the language, I relied just as much on warm gestures and smiles as I did my broken Putonghua to make friends and take snapshots. My second trip across China was accompanied by my Chinese girlfriend Hong Mei, who also worked as translator. This trip was more cultural-centric, and with her help I found a more intimate understanding of the lives of the people I was photographing. On both journeys, I usually first made friends with people, then a photograph followed as a mere afterthought. For the candid shots, it took deft skill to capture the precious moment without being noticed – not easy for a foreigner in China. Of course, many timesI wasn’t so blessed. For the Hunan riot photos on pages 380-381, for example, I was confronted by local police who said they would incarcerate me indefinitely if I didn’t delete those pictures