> Mother River

Yan Wang Preston / Mother River


Artist Statement

‘Mother River’ (2010-2014) is a four-year project following a strict ‘Y Points System’: to photograph the 6,211km Yangtze in China with a precise interval of every 100 kilometres on a large-format film camera.

Within the project, Yangtze the Mother River is understood as a mythical waterway. As such, its iconic landscapes at selected areas are idealised symbols of China’s national identity. Its eternal flow, as it was perceived in traditional China, is now an eternal flow forward, providing a powerful analogy for China’s urge for development. Such a value system is reflected in the naturalised hierarchies between places along the river – between the urban and the rural, between central China in the east and its borderlands in the west, and between the iconic and the vernacular landscapes. As a myth, Yangtze the Mother River naturalises China’s ideology of modernisation while idealising China’s national identity.

The Yangtze’s spectacular journey, from 5,400 meters above sea level in central Tibet all the way to Shanghai, made the project into a series of epic expeditions and discoveries. On a personal level, ‘Mother River’ is an epic pilgrimage paid to the Yangtze by one of its daughters. In many of the remote areas that rarely see outsiders, being a woman with a clumsy large-format film camera was in fact very helpful, because I appeared less threatening.

On an artistic level, the project is an exhaustive exploration towards issues around myths, mapping and landscape photography. The ‘Y Points System’ is designed to challenge the Mother River myth by subverting the existing hierarchies between places on the river while opening systematic access to previously unexplored, vernacular landscapes. The near-topographic pictorial strategy aims at subverting the prevalent photographic idealisation of the Yangtze landscapes. The epic journey itself challenged the artist’s ‘rational determination’ by making some areas inaccessible and by incorporating human mistakes. The resulting ‘blank’ and ‘wrong’ pictures become a test uprooting rationality and human control—themselves celebrated modern characters.



Yan Wang Preston is an early career, British-Chinese artist interested in how landscape photography can challenge myths and reveal hidden complexities behind the surface of physical landscapes. Previously trained in Clinical Medicine and worked as an anaesthetist in Shanghai, Preston immigrated to the UK in 2005 and dedicated her new career to photography. She obtained a MA in Photography at Leeds Beckett University in 2009 and is currently completing a PhD in Photography at Plymouth University.


Selected Solo Exhibitions

2017    Mother River                                      
Gallery of Photography Ireland, Dublin
Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK

2015    Mother River                                      
China Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing, China
Wuhan Art Museum, China
The Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai, China
Swatch Pavilion, the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy
Lianzhou Fotofestival, Lianzhou, China

2014    He – River Together                           
Touchstones Gallery, Rochdale, UK  



Nomination, Prix Pictet Award
Shiseido Photographer Prize – Three Shadows Photography Art Center, Beijing, China

Nomination, Prix Pictet Award
Selected artist for the 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange

Reviewers Choice Award, FORMAT International Portfolio Review, Derby, UK
Clifton Camera Award, FORMAT International Portfolio Review, Derby, UK
Genesis Imaging Award, FORMAT International Portfolio Review, Derby, UK

Finalist, Renaissance Photography Prize, UK
3rd Prize, Curator’s Choice Awards  CENTER, Santa Fe, USA