Approximate Joy by Christopher Anderson, reviewed by Robin Titchener

Luxurious is one adjective that encapsulates the mood behind Christopher Anderson’s Approximate Joy. Before we even open the book, it’s beautifully screened cover exudes an air of luxury, and the luminous contents do not disappoint.


This gorgeous body of work was taken in Shenzen China, a city that could be seen as a metaphor for the rise of the country itself. Thirty years ago Shenzen did not exist, yet today it is described as a mega city and has a population in excess of twenty million.


With the exception of a poem by Xu Lizhi, this collection of portraits, contains no explanatory text. But then again, it is not required.  There is, however an overwhelming feel of wealth and power that exudes from every image on display, which intensifies and crystallizes the atmosphere.


In many respects the images have the feel of a lush Vogue photo shoot. Indeed many of them would not appear out of place in a Luchford Prada shoot, as if labels were even relevant. Beware Miuccia…the East is rising once again, and it bows to no one.


Beginning in almost total darkness the images start to appear as the pages are turned. Each successive visage a little more defined. Light seeping in, whispering details, gradually coaxing it’s subjects out of the gloom. All shot, or cropped to concentrate on the subjects features, these colour “noir” photographs transform this parade of beautiful but anonymous people into movie stars and models. Each portrait, the hair, the make up, both meticulous. Beautiful men and women. Their tone cool and aloof, aspirational, successful….. a polished disdain emanating effortlessly. Opulence pervades….It’s shadow blanketing everything…. it’s light saturating and intensifying…. enhancing colour…as rich and dark as the ambition that irradiates from every frame in the sequence.


The body of a car, liquid in colour, even more desirable in it’s anonymity. The reflections from the strip lights above it, running off like mercury… these echoes of luminosity are Bardot dancing. Why is a worthless reflection more enticing than the beast it glides across.


Is a cigarette cool ?  Resting on the lips of it’s owner, a plume of smoke rising, curling into the light, dancing in the air and dissolving, leaving nothing but a memory. Yes a cigarette is cool.


A hand raised, a bracelet falling down the slender wrist of the angel in possession. Another lowered, away from the body, maybe about to hail a cab….as if the effort were even necessary.


Red lights twinkling in the background.
Red everywhere… in the sky…illuminating the trees against the blackness of the night..
Red the colour of power,
of money,
of sex,
of China.


In the words of Anderson himself, “I have seen the future and it is now and it is China. There is no need for the past. It can be erased. A new happiness is being constructed, an approximation of joy, better than the real thing.”


China has nothing to prove. As an ancient culture, it was running before we were even walking. It invented many of the things that have driven civilization forward, and continues to cast its spell across our ongoing evolution. Like a tide, it’s fortunes may have ebbed somewhat within the finite history of our development…..but inevitably tides turn.


One get’s the feeling China doesn’t deal in approximates….
Approximate Joy by Christopher Anderson is available to purchase here.

Robin Titchener is a keen, bordering on fanatical photobook collector of thirty years.