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Exciting armchair travels to feed your wanderlust

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 3/21/2013, 2:59 p.m.
Exciting armchair travels to feed your wanderlust

A Picture speaks a thousand words

Words can be truly powerful, but I think images are what really bring them to life. And this is what I found in "China: Portrait of a People," regarded in some circles as the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author.

Author and American travel photographer Tom Carter is no stranger to long treks through foreign lands. He spent 18 months backpacking down the length of Mexico, Cuba and Central America, followed by one-year stints in Japan and India. But it is his time in China--where he has lived since 2004--that led to his first book.

Encountering China's 56 different ethnic minorities, each possessing their own distinct lifestyles, languages and customs, Carter sojourned on a travel regimen that would make even the staunchest of bare-bones adventure travelers flinch. Making do on a very limited budget with only a backpack and digital camera, traveling via the cheapest transportation and sleeping in single-digit dollar guesthouses, he had one goal in mind: to portray China to the West candidly, fairly and objectively.

The book is amazing, encompassing over 800 vivid color photos, and printed in a 6-inch-by-6-inch book that makes the reader feel more like a close friend or relative is sharing vacation photos--a robust 638 pages of them.

Contrary to the stereotypical images of the Chinese people often portrayed in the U.S. media, what's clear through Carter's extensive time spent literally living side by side with many a country man and woman is that there are bountiful layers of complexity, joy, history, culture and more to the estimated 1.3 billion people living in the fourth largest country in the world.

Echoes that speak loudly

I saved "Echoes of Earth: Finding Ourselves in the Origin of the Planet" for last, because in lieu of sharing travel adventures and perspectives within and/or about a specific destination or country, the book offers unique aspects about the planet in which we live through a voyage embarked by two women to simply photograph--or so they thought--some of the oldest rock and mineral sites around the globe.

Of the journey taken by authors L. Sue Baugh and Lynn Martinelli, the latter says, "We expected to come back only with images for a photo-essay book. We did not expect to be transformed as artists nor to discover that our human origins lie hidden in the story of the oldest stones. Our bodies carry ancient minerals deep within our bones and ancient life within our human cells."

The 200-plus photographs in the book are stunning, fashioned to shift a reader's perspective in passionate and unexpected ways through its 9-inch-by-11-inch format, two-page spreads, foldouts, half pages and cutouts--essentially a visual "flip book." In the end, the authors say that we can see how "we are all echoes of Earth."

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at lallmanbaldwin@kc.rr.com.