‘Mother River’ is a four-year project designed and completed by the British-Chinese photographer Yan Wang Preston. The project follows a strict ‘Y Points System’: to photograph one of China’s Mother Rivers, the Yangtze, with a precise interval of every 100 kilometres. Measured at 6,211 kilometres long, the river provides 63 photographic locations for the single-minded artist-explorer.
Since the river source is 5,400 meters above the sea level in the Tibetan Plateau, and half of its length flows through some of the most majestic mountains on the Earth, the project is first and foremost a modern time adventure. Nature provided many potential hazards, such as high-altitude sickness, off-road driving and orienting, floods, sandstorms, earthquakes, landslides and mudslides. Meanwhile, the photographer had to face the intellectual challenges embedded in the rigid ‘Point System’. What to produce at the pre-determined photo locations that cover such varied geographical ranges? The project demanded Preston nine field trips between 2010 and 2014.
On a personal level, ‘Mother River’ is an epic pilgrimage paid by one of the Yangtze River daughters. On an artistic level, the project is an exhaustive exploration in issues around mapping, landscape photography and myths. How can such a methodology - the combination of a ‘scientific sampling’ and a landscape pictorial strategy, contribute to the deciphering of myths, particularly a myth as rich and complicated as the Yangtze, the Mother River?