Yangtze The Mother River

Photography, Myth and Deep Mapping

Yan Wang Preston

Abstract

 


'The Yangtze is China’s Mother River. It is my Mother River.’ This practice-based PhD research was initially motivated by the researcher’s personal search for The Mother River and a critical question in finding her own vision of the river. As the field experiences contradicted the researcher’s expectation of The Mother River, the research methodology changed and led to a new, critical understanding: The Mother River is mythic.

This thesis examines the politics and characters of such a myth. It also asks with what research methods and visual strategy can landscape photography interrogate The Mother River myth’s complexities. Between 2010 and 2014, the author conducted eight field trips to the Yangtze River. Initially working observationally, it soon became apparent that this method alone was insufficient in reaching an original understanding of the physical and cultural Yangtze landscapes. A series of tactile interventions within the landscapes were then performed and critically evaluated prior to the next phase of the research, in which the entire 6,211 km of the Yangtze River was photographed at precise 100 km intervals. A new body of photographic work titled Mother River was produced as a result. To test its effect in challenging the myth, Mother River has been staged in 12 international exhibitions and printed in one complete catalogue. Over 80,000 people visited the shows in China.

Deep mapping, which combines experiential and contextual research with multi-sensorial emplacement as a key method, emerged from this research process and is argued as a new contribution to the field of photographic research. Meanwhile, the artistic output of this research, Mother River, is the most systematic documentation of the entire river made by one person since the 1840s. Furthermore, it is argued that using the Y Points System as a physical framework and storytelling a visual strategy, Mother River challenges the mythic Yangtze The Mother River with a scale and complexity rarely employed by other photographers.