Mother River is a four-year project for which the British-Chinese photographer Yan Wang Preston conducted a series of performances along the Yangtze River in China before photographing the entire 6,211km Yangtze River at precise 100km intervals with a large-format film camera.
As China’s ‘Mother River’, the Yangtze is usually celebrated by idealistic images of iconic places. Through embodied and systematic research, including performances at selected locations along the river, Preston discovered the mythic nature of the ‘Mother River’. The following photographic project, Mother River, set off to challenge such myth by conceptually undermining the deep-seated regional and aesthetic preferences towards certain river places and their landscape representations. A set of accidental and vernacular landscapes were collected, which have never or rarely been photographed before as the representation of the Mother River. The resulting images tell an epic, yet multi-layered story of the entire width of China from its western highland to its eastern coast, from the near-pristine wilderness in Tibet to the modern metropolis Shanghai.
The project is also deeply personal. It is a desperate and fully committed attempt for the artist, a native Chinese person in exile, to re-locate her personal identity. It is also the first one-person attempt to document the entire Yangtze systematically since photography began in China in 1842. The pictures are backed with precise geological and geographical information, responding to a long history of photography being used for surveying and capitalist enterprise.
Dr. Yan Wang Preston is a British-Chinese artist interested in the contested conditions, perceptions and representations of nature in contemporary societies. Keywords for her research and practice include: landscape imagery, identity, photographic methods and the environment.