Portraits of China

John Torrente


China is kinetic. Frenetic. A constant barrage of dutiful chaos a billion souls strong. It’s a place where grandma and grandpa still don the blue Mao suits, while their upwardly mobile offspring drive late model Porsche SUVs. Today, the Western world is fixated on China’s economic growth and mixed market economy, but we rarely see or hear about the Chinese people and their daily life.


I first arrived in China in 2004 to teach English. I have left and returned four times since. I avoided the popular cities, opting to live in smaller underdog towns. The Chinese culture is complicated, with thick layers of customs and mores that, to this day, I still don’t understand. The individual people, however, are wonderful. They are kind and giving. They are eager to share and learn.


I use photography as a means of cultural exchange. This is a mixed group of portraits - from a Mongolian artist based in Beijing to a group of Hui children living inside the dry desert mountains of Ningxia province.


Using a Rolleiflex TLR forces me to work slowly and thoughtfully. When the moment is right, I take a shot. Just one. And I hope for the best. To bring the exchange full circle, I hand print 20x24 prints and send them back to the people in the photo.



John Torrente is a contributing photographer at Highbrow Magazine.

John Torrente
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