Monday, August 18, 2008

Controversial Book Review: "China Naked" by Frank Rothe

Instead of reviewing a "safe" book like "Understanding Exposure", or one of the many "digital photography" books, we decided to go outside the box and review a controversial perhaps book. The book is "China Naked", by German photographer Frank Rothe. As the title suggests, the book includes portraits of Chinese people without any clothes on, with full body pictures of both women and men. That alone can make an art book "controversial" among the puritan crowds. After all, if God intended people to be naked, he would have made them without clothes ;-)

Conclusion First
This book manages to do something difficult, peel the layers off and individualize China, a country of over 1 billion people.

The Review
We are not expert book reviewers, so please don't expect fancy language or complicated words :)

This book is like having three books in one. The first book would be your typical travel/photojournalism book if you only look at the cityscape/urban-life and travel-style pictures. The second book would be a clothless (nude) portraiture book if you only look at the portraits. These could make good books in their own right, but...'s the third book, the blending of the two, that is of sociopolitical significance and could be looked upon in decades to come as an influential piece of socio-politico-photojournalism.

Each page pair has a cityscape (urban life) and a portrait. Sometimes the cityscape is on the left page, sometimes on the right, but each page pair blends a portrait with urban life.

If you pay close attention, you will notice that the person in the portrait in most pages could easily be one of the people seen in the cityscape picture right next to the portrait. It's as if the author is extracting one of the people from the picture and singling them out, turning the amorphous crowd of a billion people into individuals.

Removing a person's physical layers, clothes and other worldly possessions and separating them from the rest of the people is a powerful symbolism of one's fragile individuality.

And this symbolism is taken to another level when you are dealing with a country of over 1 billion people, a country often shrouded in mystery or stereotypes among the people who have not closely studied it.

Contrast the individual portraits of this book with the intimating 2000 Tai Chi drummers performance (via at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Those who watched the NBC broadcast of the opening ceremony may recall the announcers pointing out that the drummers were asked to smile a lot because their performance was too intimidating, their sheer numbers and sound could be too much for the world.

The photographer-author uses both adult men and women of all ages in his portraits, but an underlying theme is the slow, steady and systematic transition of and to the next generation in China.

And that next generation may be the catalyst. While there has been some progress as seen in the Olympics, China has a lot more work to do to accelerate the expansion of individual rights and personal and religious freedoms and protect and de-pollute the environment.

This review, like all other blog posts, is a "live document" and will be updated. Bookmark it or share it with your frenemies with the permalink.

Other Reviews of this book
The only other review of the book we could find so far was from MidWest Book Review posted at Amazon.

About the Author
The author is Frank Rothe, and you can read all about him at his biography page. If you want to visit his main page, note that it requires the latest version of Macromedia Flash.

Book Details
+Title: "China Naked", 120 pages, hardcover
+Authors: Frank Rothe, Celina Lunsford, Christoph Tannert
+ISBN: 3939583111
+ISBN-13: 978-3939583110
+Publisher: Kehrer Verlag

The book is available now at:
+A1 Books
+Barnes and Noble

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