The best colour photography books on China

The Books I Picked & Why

China

By Hiroji Kubota

China

Why this book?

Tapping into the long tradition of panoramic landscapes in Chinese art Kubota produced a mammoth tome of exquisite wide vistas. Back in the 1980s, these large-format images were a revelation to me and many around the world who had not experienced the spectacular scenery of China. Printed and produced to a very high standard this book came out to a rapturous reception in his native Japan and around the world at a time before mass tourism and industrialisation would change much of the country. The unspoilt views of snowscapes in the Northeast to the karst hills of Guilin’s Li River opened a window to the beauty of this vast country that had been off-limits to the rest of the world for more than half a century.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

China

By Edward Burtynsky, Ted Fishman, Mark Kingwell, Marc Mayer

China

Why this book?

Another master of the grand view, the Canadian artist brought his view cameras and production team to definitively capture the vastness of China’s growing industrial might. The studies of production lines and factory life offer a glimpse into the 21st century’s workshop of the world. The technical and stylistic perfection Burtnysky deploys match the scale of his subjects whilst never losing the human element in the scenes. We are all richer from the experience of understanding the context of where so much of what we use on a daily basis comes from.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Phantom Shanghai

By Greg Girard

Phantom Shanghai

Why this book?

Shanghai is a city that fascinates and repels both Chinese and foreigners alike. The harsh exploitative past and the contemporary resurgence embrace a sometimes unsettling mix of wealth, style and brutality. The architectural reshaping of the megalopolis of more than 20 million souls reflects this context and no one has captured it better than Greg Girard, a Canadian photojournalist who spent much of his career in Asia. The twilight of eerie neon tones in the smoggy half-demolished city is fertile territory for this image maker chasing the phantoms.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Nadav Kander: Yangtze, The Long River

By Jean Paul Tchang, Nadav Kander

Nadav Kander: Yangtze, The Long River

Why this book?

The Yangtze River is only how outsiders know it: to Chinese it is simply ‘Changjiang’ or ‘Long River’. Flowing through the heart of the country from the Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai it is central to the lives and imagination of countless generations of Chinese. Kander, better known for his advertising and commercial work, brings a sedate and contemplative approach to this huge subject. The silt-laden river and the smoggy air around it present a challenge to any photographer as shapes and shadows melt into the yellow and grey. Here they provide a palette of otherworldly views, anchored by careful placement of the human elements we can identify with.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Bruno Barbey: China 1973 - 2013: From Mao to Modernity

By Jonathan Fenby

Bruno Barbey: China 1973 - 2013: From Mao to Modernity

Why this book?

One of the storied Magnum agency’s less known yet supremely talented photographers, Barbey was a virtuoso of colour before many publications were geared up to print it. The Frenchman who died in 2019 had a long history of visiting China and his body of work is not as well known as that of Cartier-Bresson or Riboud but that may change as modern printing technology finally does justice to it. This book is probably the best available in English but a huge tome both larger and better produced has come out in China to a great reception.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists