Mother River is a breath-taking photographic odyssey by the British-Chinese photographer, Yan Wang Preston. It takes the viewer on a journey along the entire 6,211km of the Yangtze, China’s ‘Mother River’. From the remote high Tibetan Plateau, through the Three Gorges and on to the river’s end at Shanghai, this stunning series of colour photographs captures the dramatic shifts in landscape and offers fresh perspectives on China’s present-day development.
Preston used Google Earth to identify the coordinates of sixty-three locations marking every 100 km of the river’s course. It was these sixty-three ‘Y-points’ that she set out to reach and to photograph, come what may. This method avoided most of the picturesque views or colossal concrete structures, which are frequently visited by photographers. Instead, a set of accidental and vernacular landscapes were found and photographed. Many locations have rarely or never been photographed by a traveller before.
Over a period of four years (2010-2014), the artist made nine field trips into incredibly diverse and often remote terrain. She used a large-format field camera, the kind used by nineteenth century pioneering explorers. Since the river source is 5,400 meters above sea level, and half of its length flows through some of the most majestic mountains on Earth, Mother River is a modern-day adventure. The intrepid photographer faced panoply of hazards including altitude sickness, mudslides, earthquakes, sandstorms, floods and wild dogs. Such conditions made the journeys unpredictable. Two photo locations could not be reached and some films were loaded back-to-front by mistake. Preston embraced such ‘apparent failure’ by including two ‘blank’ pictures and two ‘wrong’ pictures in the final narrative, highlighting performativity as an inherent part of the project. Mother River demonstrates that in an era of abundant satellite mapping and saturated imagery, fresh views can still be attained with ambitious, physical and personal mapping.
This online exhibition re-enacts the essence of Mother River project – a rigorous artistic concept and an epic yet uncontrollable physical process. A hand-drawn map and a pictorial sequence from the river source to the mouth are presented together with a set of 76 postcards containing all the beds that Preston slept on during the project journeys. Short films documenting the making of the project are also displayed.