If there were ever a book to place on your coffee table and allow to sit there through the years, to be ogled and enjoyed by you and friends and family, “China” by Yann Layma (Abrams, $50.00, 424 pages, 240 photographs in full color) is it.
If you are interested in China, great photography, history, language, religion, remarkable reporting, this massive compendium of all things China is for you. There is the incredible flow of the vistas of the Great Wall all the way through to the newest splendid skyscrapers of Shanghai. The author/photographer Yann Layma spent two decades appreciating, understanding and absorbing the culture of China. The results are all for our benefit.
The book has insightful and moving sketches of the country and profiles of the cities in full color, full page and sometimes double page spreads. We see workers building on girders and workers suspended in air cleaning glass in tall buildings, old people at rest and youngsters open-eyed and agog, boats, moving crowd scenes, bikes, horses and riders – a universe. An especially welcome feature of the book comes at the end; each photo is repeated in miniature with captions and the date taken and information about the subject matter.
The past is as real as the present (and the future ) in this ambitious and stunning effort – not only a great book about China, but one of the most impressive books these reviewers have seen in a long time.
Yann Layma writes in his introduction: “When China suddenly opened its borders to the world in 1979 by granting the first individual travel visa, I experienced something of an epiphany, and the revelation of a future vocation, the manifest destiny to open myself to the Other, move over there, and to immerse myself willingly, body and soul, in the immensity of that great center of human culture, that quarter of humanity.” How fortunate that he did and that we have his epic work to cherish and learn from. “China” is a keeper!