“Throughout my life I thought I knew the Yangtze River, our ‘Mother River’. On my mind the river is that glamorous river, represented by the beautiful Three Gorges, eternal harmonic atmosphere expressed in traditional poems and paintings… That’s the Yangtze River I thought I knew.” –Yan Wang Preston
Embarking on a four-year journey, British-Chinese photographer Yan Wang Preston, has decided to “photograph humanity with the backdrop of the mighty river”. She chose not to shoot right on the river itself, while on a boat for several reasons but mainly because she wanted to portray the cultural landscape of the Yangtze River– the connection of nature and man. And it seems that the river carries itself a moral imperative.
The Yangtze River stretches far and wide with a 6,211 km distance, making it the the largest river in China and the third in the world after Amazon and Nile, respectively. It has a symbolic representation which plays a large role in China’s history, economics and culture. But Yan Wang Preston’s aim was not to depict the obvious issues. She portrayed a particular aesthetic throughout the photographs and an overall structure of enthralling stories of the people and how they live their lives along the river.
From a viewer’s perspective, walking inside the exhibition room, marvelling at each photographs, brought me on a journey with the photographer. I mused at the project as a whole with its impressive variety and at the same time, its wholeness. As I was moving through the room from the beginning towards the end, I noticed the beautiful shift of colours which is congruent to the passing of each season, the vastness of the Mother River (physically and historically) and the exceptional capacity of Yan Wang Preston to project her vision into a series of tangible pictures for the whole world to see.
And I believe it is also worth noting that another reason why she chose not to shoot on the river was her decision to use a large format camera as the main tool for her photographic odyssey. A large format technically means slower shutter speed, so shooting while on the boat, would result to blurry photos. But why a large format camera despite its complexity? “To use a large format for me is kind of a slow, reflective process” she says, “and that felt right for the purpose of this project.”
“Mother River by Yan Wang Preston” exhibition at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin is the first presentation in Europe. It runs until the 5th of March 2017.
Words & Photos // Camille Alaura