Book Talk: Backpacker-photographer shows China through unfiltered lens

Tom Carter found himself homeless, jobless, with little money and 6,000 miles (9,656 km) from home after answering a job posting on Craigslist that turned out to be a scam.

But rather than return to San Francisco, Carter found a teaching job along China's Yellow River Delta, which is a world away from Beijing and Shanghai.

Two years later, in 2006, he saved enough to embark on a 35,000-mile (56,325-km) two-year journey to every corner of China that inspired his 600-plus page photography book, "China: Portrait of a People."

"I was literally just a dusty backpacker who just wanted to travel and see the country. My eyes were open to everything," the 39-year-old said.

Carter, who is married to a Chinese woman and a new father, spoke with Reuters in a telephone interview about his journey and reconciling the old with the new.

Q: How many years have you been in China?

A: "I arrived in 2004. I stayed for four straight years, so I didn't even go home for holidays or anything. In 2008 I decided to move to Japan for a year, just to give that a try. I was living up in Beijing at the time and it was just getting weird with the Olympics ... I saved up to go to India the following year, so all of India in 2009 ... We came back to China and realized this was going to be home."

Q: A lot of your photos show striking contrasts between old and new, rich and poor. How do you reconcile the disparities?

A: "It's like watching a child mature and grow, but on fast forward ... I think progress and change is inevitable. You can't lament it. But I think the way the Chinese government has gone about it has been a little bit shameful. (It is) like they're purposefully trying to erase swaths of history and culture because they want to catch up with America and Japan.

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