Imagine if Ansel Adams had been interested in the interaction of nature and people in landscapes rather than the wilderness. Then, imagine that he had traveled widely in China from 1984 to 1999 to capture the country's image, history, and culture. Add a banquet camera and platinum printing using the tritone process. This will begin to give you an idea of what this book contains. I was entranced by these images of what I have not yet seen . . . but now better understand.
Ms. Conner brings several perspectives to her photographs that I found rewarding. First, the horizontal rectangles of the banquet camera remind me of a finely detailed scroll. Immediately, the images bring new understanding to much traditional Chinese art as well as to the impact that landscape has had on Chinese culture. Second, the interaction of people and nature create interesting thoughts for the viewer. Why is human orderliness so much less attractive than the less regular pulses of nature? Third, the people feel like they are in the room with you, providing the basis for potentially having a conversation. What do they think of photography? What do they think of those who will see the photographs? What message would they like to send? What messages have they sent? Fourth, history comes to life with the places. You see the desert boundaries of a dynasty. You see the political stage upon which a government exults in itself. The echoes of foreign domination linger on in other images. So, although these images do not have texts accompanying each one, they carry eloquent messages to both the casual and the careful observer. A helpful foreword by Jonathan Spence, thoughtful essay by Geremie R. Barme, and self-reflective notes by Ms. Conner add to the viewer's understanding of the intriguing, and often breathtaking, scenes.
As in the best photography books, this one uses facing pages well to create contrasts, dialogue, and new thoughts. The quality of the paper and the printing of the images are superb.
Usually, I am moved to pick out a few images for special mention as being the most outstanding. I did not have that reaction to this volume. I felt that almost every image was outstanding. Collectively, they tell a vastly more interesting story than they do individually. In total, there is an impression of China as it has been, is now, and is becoming that are vastly more indelible than the last ten books you could have read about China.
After you finish enjoying this wonderful volume several times, think about where else photographs could add depth of understanding that other ways of characterizing something could not. How can you use photographs to help others understand important lessons in those situations?
Press in all directions to expose new dimensions of reality!