Best Asian Travel Photography Books
China was the largest and most advanced economy on earth for much of recorded history, until the British Empire (excluding India) overtook it in the mid 19th century. Japan has had for only several decades after WW2 the largest economy in Asia and second-largest of any single nation in the world, after surpassing the Soviet Union in 1986 and Germany in 1968.
Economic growth in Asia since World War II to the 1990s had been concentrated in Japan as well as the four regions of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore located in the Pacific Rim, known as the Asian tigers, which have now all received developed country status, having the highest GDP per capita in Asia.
It is forecasted that India will overtake Japan in terms of nominal GDP by 2020. In terms of GDP per capita, both nominal and PPP-adjusted, South Korea will become the second wealthiest country in Asia by 2025, overtaking Germany, the United Kingdom and France. According to IMF statistics for the year 2010, the mostly unrecognised Republic of China PPP-adjusted GDP per capita, at USD 34,743, is already higher than that of Finland, France, or Japan.
To better help you visually understand Asia, here are the ten best Asian photography books ever:
1) Asia by Olivier Föllmi
Inspired by the beauty of distant countries, Asia celebrates the depth and grandeur of the Far East. The fourth volume in Abrams’ album-size collection of Olivier Föllmi’s photographs, this book presents the most exceptional images the artist took during his travels in Burma, Japan, China, and Vietnam, and many points between. The large format allows the photographs, their colors, and the places and people they capture to come alive in the reader’s hands. The photographs are accompanied by captions written by acclaimed journalist Virginie de Borchgrave that give detailed information about each image. The book also includes an essay by Föllmi, who describes his experience traveling in these regions. Asia is a celebration and invocation of the continent which has inspired many to dream.
2) Lonely Planet The Asia Book
Asia: a continent of candid contradictions, unmatched mayhem and mystery, where just one experience will never quite articulate the magic of the place. A fisherman’s song at dawn on the banks of the Mekong, a chaos of color on the ghats of the Ganges, the silence of the vast steppes of Kazakhstan, a marching mile of red hats along the Great Wall road: Asia is all this and more. From the tropical beaches of Bali to the frozen slopes of Everest, The Asia Book draws together a definitive collection of the sights, sounds and tastes of this captivating continent. Let Lonely Planet’s photographers, authors and travellers lead you through five regions, 46 countries, and more than two thousand years of stories.
3) South Southeast by Steve McCurry
The photographs in this book reflect the passion that Steve McCurry has for the people of countries such as India, Afghanistan etc. It also shows his eye for the landscapes of these countries, evoking fervour for the colours of the land. While Steve McCurry’s photographs will always move and inspire, the layout of this book is so effective to the display of his works. A large format that gives the images room to breath, and simple facing pages that state the location and date of the image. This is a book that would continue to inspire every time you leaf through the pages. Those of you who are consumers of the imagery in National Geographic will experience more than a few flashes of recognition as you page through the sumptuous images in this book. Unlike on the pages of national geo, however, this book gives Steve’s images the chance to stand alone, independent of editorial and other clutter on the page, and in this singular treatment it is easy to recognize them for what they are: exceptional color photography, and exceptional pieces of art. Whether you have traveled to southeast asia in body or in mind, you will find these images deep and resounding, worth many hours of leisurely flipping. If you are a color photographer, you will stop and stare with admiration, remembering again why you carry a camera.
4) CHINA: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter
There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. Besides the majority Han Chinese, the population includes 56 ethnic groups numbering over one hundred million. Over the course of 2 years and 35,000 miles, photojournalist Tom Carter captured it ALL on film. Carter’s anthropological-like study of China stands apart in its genre, as it focuses expressly on the PEOPLE of China. In addition to documenting the everyday life of “ordinary” people, Carter also backpacked to the most remote areas of China to observe reclusive ethnic minorities. From Inner Mongolian nomads to newlyweds in Hong Kong, from the teenage girl living in Chengdu dressed like an American punk rocker to the soot covered coal miner in Southern Shanxi, Carter’s camera documented the complexity and diversity of China like no other book ever has.
5) A Day in the Life of Japan by Rick Smolan
On June 7, 1985, 100 photographers from around the world set out to cover Japan. Many had participated in A Day in the Life of Canada ( LJ 11/1/85) and the similar books on Australia and Hawaii. This, however, is the first such coverage of a non-Western, non-English-speaking country. The color photographs are sumptuously reproduced and every one holds our attention. The pictures are arranged chronologically, from early morning until late at night. A map of Japan shows where each was taken. Photographers are credited next to their pictures, and biographies of participants follow the picture essay, as does a story about their experiences taking these 300 pictures, chosen from some 135,000 exposures. The range of subjects covered is enormous and shakes up our notions about Japan.
6) Korea: As Seen by Magnum Photographers
South Korea, with its craggy hillsides, gnarled trees, and ancient temples, is steeped in tradition yet, at the same time, is thoroughly modern—the tenth-ranking industrial power in the world. Its capital city, Seoul, is one of the most populous cities in the world and home to such cutting-edge buildings as the Samsung Tower Palace. The beautiful landscape and day-to-day details of life in South Korea are depicted here in images taken by the photographers of Magnum—the famed cooperative whose members are among the greatest photographers of our time. Here we see a rich culture that both respects a dynamic cultural history and celebrates the latest trends in fashion, technology, and architecture. These extraordinary photographs are set in their historical context by an insightful text by historian Bruce Cumings.
7) The Ministry of Truth: Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea by Eva Munz
The few dozen tourists—and a few journalists—who come annually to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang are accompanied by guides and are only allowed to see what the regime blinders for their viewing. For the visitors, actors often represent pedestrians, and the consumer goods seen in stores are unavailable to the public at large. The statistics heaped upon the visitors are dubious at best. Kim Jong Il’s People’s Republic of North Korea is a gigantic installation, a simulation, a play. Eva Munz, Christian Kracht, and Lukas Nikol traveled to this land to take pictures of a country from which there are no pictures. What they show in The Ministry of Truth is a window view of the gigantic 3-D production of Kim Jong Il, who writes the nation’s statistics and authors its film script. Because no accurate view is available of this total installation, the authors make the only one possible: They comment on their photos with quotations from a didactic book on the art of film written by the dictator—who not only collects wine and Mazda RX-7 sports cars, but also has an enormous film library.
8) India: In Word and Image by Eric Meola
Although photographer Meola’s claim that he is drawn to India because the people are blessed with childhood’s sense of wonder seems slightly patronizing, his photographs are an affectionate tribute to the subcontinent’s diversity and history. Meola has a fine eye for detail and devotes equal attention to the grand and the humble, from spectacular Buddhist mandalas and Rajasthan’s sprawling forts to rose-ringed parakeets nesting in trees or henna on a woman’s hands. Suffused with light and color, his images sidestep cliché to achieve an intimacy and spontaneity that readers will relish.
9) Passage to Vietnam : Through the Eyes of Seventy Photographers
The work of 70 photojournalists from 14 countries (including 15 Vietnamese photographers), this eye-opening and beautiful photo-essay on Vietnam portrays a reunified country still recovering from the wounds of war. More than 200 candid color photographs take us inside homes and temples, brick and bicycle factories, oil fields, open-air markets and college dorms, profiling a people of restless energy and ancient culture. Sponsored by U.S. and Thai corporations, the book argues that Vietnam’s Marxist communism “is hardly strident or insistent,” and that reforms of the last decade have freed the nation from Ho Chi Minh’s doctrinaire policies, allowing private ownership of businesses, foreign investment and greater freedom of expression and worship.
10) Carrying Cambodia by Hans Kemp
Unbelievable feats of transportation are an everyday occurrence on the streets of Cambodia. Tuk tuks, cyclos, cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles transport loads that defy your wildest imagination. Photographers Hans Kemp and Conor Wall documented this unique street culture resulting in this amazing 144 page book loaded with incredible photographs that will forever change your definition of “packed.”