China: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter Blacksmith/Haven Books, HK$280 It must have been a daunting task for Tom Carter to set out to photograph all 33 provinces and regions of China, including Hong Kong and Macau. But capturing the diversity of its 56 ethnic groups is a remarkable achievement. What makes it even more remarkable is that the photographs were taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera, an Olympus Camedia C-4000. In these competitive days of high-end digitals, the C-4000, first sold in 2002, is a relatively happy snapper. Its meagre four megapixels are now at the bottom end of the pile and almost matched by the latest mobile phones. Nor can you store many shots on its Smartmedia card, the largest available being 128mb. To be fair to the camera it was initially applauded for the quality of its lens, but it would not be most photographers' tool of choice; it is, however, small, unobtrusive and tough. And surely that was how Carter managed to capture many of the candid shots in the book without intimidating too many of his subjects. Carter was born in San Francisco in 1973 and studied political science at the American University in Washington, pursuing a political career before hitting the road to travel with a backpack through Mexico, Cuba and Central America. He arrived on the mainland in 2004 and spent a couple of years teaching English to pay for his 56,000km journey by train, bus and hitch-hiking. Carter, who is neither an accredited journalist nor works for a news agency or publication, travelled alone for the first part of his project, sleeping in guest houses, bus stations, peasant shanties and youth hostels. When he was in Hong Kong he stayed at Chungking Mansions. He was joined later by his girlfriend Hannah Hong, who quit her Beijing job to help him gain access to some of the more remote regions and difficult cultures. It was not all plain sailing. Carter says he met with occasional resistance. In Hubei he fell foul of local police after witnessing a peasant riot and was threatened with jail if he didn't hand over his shots. Luckily some pictures survived, although he doesn't say how. In northern Jilin province he accidentally crossed the North Korean border and it cost him a tin of Cuban cigarillos to persuade the machine gun-toting guards to let him back into China. In a hotel lobby in Chongqing he was set upon by three drunken men. Despite all this he describes the Chinese 'as perhaps the friendliest, most welcoming people' he has ever encountered on his world travels. There are a number of shots in this book that could easily grace the pages of National Geographic, but it must be said most are simple documentary studies. Carter, by his own admission, was not out to create works of art with his pictures. 'Their purpose ... is to form a candid portrait of China exactly as China presented itself to me,' he writes in his introduction. Unless you want to undertake your own two-year trek through some of the mainland's most difficult terrain to take your own shots, this is a study well worth having on your bookshelf.