Last Friday I went to the opening of a student show at ICP. The photographers were students who had taken the shots during a trip to various regions India and the East. There were some beautiful images, but overall I was not impressed. It’s not hard to take an aesthetically beautiful shot of women in colorful saris or snow-capped mountains. It is difficult, however, to connect with people who are foreign to you (and you to them) and to establish a connection when you have a camera in their face.
A rising photojournalist currently residing in Beijing, Tom Carter’s work has that kind of intimacy I don’t often see.
His dedication to capturing the daily life and culture of the people of China is evident in the fact that he’s one of the first foreigners to travel to all 33 provinces and autonomous regions.
Before he was a photographer, Tom was headed for a career in politics. He took 2 years off from studying Political Science at Washington D.C.’s American University to work on a Republican presidential campaign during the 1996 U.S. primaries, but eventually became disenchanted with politics.
Here’s an excerpt from an ForeignerCN.com interview of Tom Carter by Krokodil Han:
“After disassociating himself with politics, his one-and-a-half-year backpacking trip around Mexico, Central-America and Cuba was aimed at literally “finding himself”. Tom’s father is from Panama and his great-grandfather from Cuba. So throughout his travels he was trying to rediscover his heritage within Latino culture because “that’s half of what I am”.
“It is poor, but colorful; it is beautiful, proud and strong.” But even the Latin America he visited just 8 years ago has already dramatically changed. Under the process of globalization, Tom realized this kind of cultural conflict must be happening in many other countries and regions around the world, and thus he eventually arrived in China.
Since carrying the same patched-up backpack all the way to the P.R.C., Tom has found amazing similarities between indigenous Latino and Chinese cultures. “If you put the Indians of Guatemala and the ethnic minorities from Yunnan together, you might be hard pressed to tell who is from where. Visually, they are almost identical: dark brown skin, colorful hand-stitched clothes with remarkably similar patterns, agrarian-based societies residing primarily in the mountainous regions, and each struggling to subsist while fighting to preserve their ancient heritage.”
“I think that strengthened my bond with Chinese culture. It made me realize that we are alike, that we are all related in some way.”