“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
I am tonight, once again, at a loss. I feel but cannot articulate. China becomes a memory, that infamously inaccurate mechanism. I turn to what I wrote to friends just after returning home.
"Your sensibilities have to change in China. Everywhere there is human suffering. People on the streets are missing limbs or are bent double by some ancient malady. Some are covered by burns or have had their legs bent backwards. I refused to photograph any of that. There seemed no point but to highlight human misery. I'll leave it to others. One day in Shanghai, Rachel and I were having beers at a sidewalk cafe in a nicer part of town near The Bund. A street artist stood at a distance sketching my portrait. A man with thalidomide hands stood closer, begging me for money. The artist finished and showed me his work. It was pretty good, so I gave him fifty or a hundred yuen. I watched the crippled fellow and commented to Rachel, "You know what that guy is thinking? He is thinking,'Mister, if I had two hands, I would rip your self-absorbed throat out and take all your filthy money.'" It was a terrible moment. Of course, I gave the crippled man money and we got up to go, but the cripple came running after me, calling out something to me in Mandarin. I figured he wanted more money, but rather he was trying to tell me that I had left my pack with three Leicas in it at the cafe. Those cameras were worth a life's fortune for him. I am ashamed to admit that I did not give them to him. But that is the way of China, as they say. If you were a diplomat or a corporate executive, China would hold undefinable luxuries and pleasures for you. With tremendous capital and billions of poor people, China must be the most fearsomely twisted country in the world.
It seems the street portrait did not make it home with me.
But I recorded none of that. I have my own form of perversion. I am a Romantic Imperialist with a camera. Here is some evidence of that."