Q&A: Yan Wang Preston — Mother River


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? No. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Our obsessions with plastics. Are you aware of any conspiracies? No. What is it that interests you about photography? It brings a heightened state of mind and makes me aware of so much more. What is the worst thing about city life? Plastic trees. What part of the planet would you like to explore? The Tibetan Plateau. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? The after-life. If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? Not sure. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Biology. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? Emm… in a way I would like to create a moment in my photographs. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. My job is almost for free most of the time. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. The badly-exposed sunset photo taken by my dad years ago. It was the first time that I actually ‘saw’ sunset. How often do you take other people’s advice? All the time. Describe a personal hell. No nature, no sport. Which living person do you most admire? Lynn Hill. An American rock climber. On what occasion do you lie? Often. Mostly to make people happy. What is the best way to educate yourself? Action and reflection. Most used camera? Linhof Master Techinika classic. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Almost. Describe a cheap thrill. Running in the woods. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Are impulses more important than consequences? No. Which talent would you most like to have? At the moment, marketing. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? To reach £7,500 on my Mother River book Kickstarter.

Mother River is an ambitious and highly original four-year project (2010-2014) for which the British-Chinese artist Yan Wang Preston photographed the entire 6,211km length of the Yangtze River at precise 100km intervals. Yan used a large-format film camera for her epic project, overcoming a number of different physical, logistical, emotional and artistic challenges to produce a fascinating and unique body of work.

As China’s ‘Mother River’, the Yangtze is usually celebrated through idealistic images of iconic places along its length. With Mother River, I wanted to conceptually disrupt the deep-seated conventional preference towards popular locations and their landscape representations. By deliberately committing to pre-determined photographic locations equally spread out every 100KM, the work I produced features no picturesque views or sublime concrete structures. Instead, it is a collection of random, vernacular and sometimes intriguingly mundane landscapes that have never – or only very rarely – been photographed before. The Mother River book tells an epic story of the entire width of China, from its western highland to its eastern coast. It demonstrates that in an era of abundant satellite mapping and often clichéd imagery, we can still discover fresh, authentic and sometimes surprising views through ambitious physical and personal mapping.

Mother River is set to be published this October by renowned German publishing house Hatje Cantz and designed by the award-winning designer, Julia Wagner. It includes a Y Points System map and all Mother River images, as well as mapping and shooting information. It contains a preface by the widely-respected landscape photographer, Jem Southam, and two in-depth essays by the Professor of Photographic Culture Liz Wells, Plymouth University, and Dr Michael Pritchard, CEO of Royal Photographic Society respectively. A detailed diary entry of Y16 by Yan Wang Preston is also included.

Copies are now available for preorder, put your name on a future book here (kickstarter.com) and help support this project onto paper.

To see more of Yan Wang Preston’s work please visit — Website / Instagram.