Book Talk: Backpacker-photographer shows China through unfiltered lens

"What they do now is say, 'We understand some people want to see that traditional villages still exist, so we'll build a new old village.' They turn it into a tourist zone and it's all fake, it just looks old and they think that's good enough. It's not."

Q: How do you think the Chinese are adapting to the changes?

A: "Everything is off-balance and that doesn't really make a lot of sense to anyone, especially to the villagers who are still living in poverty out on the other side of the country. Meanwhile, people are driving Ferraris down the street in Shanghai. These aren't rich people. These are middle class people who can afford a Ferrari ... You can't have that much economic disparity and regional disparity without consequences."

Q: From your travels, how do India and China compare?

A: "I think that India is about a century behind China still as far as infrastructure and modernization. I think I can say that with relative authority having traveled on the ground all over - north, south, east and west. It's a really, really magnificent country. The culture and the religions are just amazing to witness and to see. I love it ... But politically and economically, I can honestly say that I do not believe that India is any kind of competition for China."

Q: Why the disparity?

A: "I believe it's a combination of rampant corruption, and just a kind of defeatist attitude. I'm not talking about the average Indian person. I'm talking about the government itself ... People say Chinese leaders are shameless about their corruption, but I think India's on a whole new scale."

Q: How did you get so immersed in photography?

A: "The camera was really a gateway into introducing me to people, ways of life I otherwise might not have had an access to ... There's a realism that you feel in the book that you don't get with other books about China, that are really glossy, and have been Photoshopped and are really pretty to look at."

... contd.

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