American photographer Shawn Records travelled to China as part of a government sponsored trip designed to promote tourism. Shepherded around by an escort to pre-selected sites, along with five other American fine-art photographers and at times another 100 Chinese commercial photographers, Records produced the book From the Bottom of a Well, demonstrating the narrow view he was exposed to, over the two-week trip. Creating images with a certain dark humour, he photographs scenes which emphasize the artificiality of the circumstances, on one hand participating in the cataloguing of the government-approved promotion and on the other hand intentionally subverting it.
The result is, in a sense, a tourist book about tourism; a smirking look at the marketing attempts of China to bring in outsiders to reinforce the image that they’ve decided to represent about themselves. Ultimately, the question may be, can you ever subvert an entity by giving it attention? Yet Records approaches the project with perhaps the right amount of irony and cynicism, embedding himself in the machine, while also photographing the machine from the inside.
From the Bottom of a Well is available for sale through A-Jump Books as part of a series of 500 copies. There is also a special edition release of 50 copies, which comes with an archival pigment print, available for $100.
Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.