Mother River: A photobook by Yan Wang Preston

20 June 2018

In the Media

Update 26/06/2018 - the £15,000 target has been reached! Congratulations Yan.

Last chance to support a Kickstarter project by an RPS Member.

Closes: Sat, June 30 2018 12:00 PM BST

'Mother River' encapsulates Yan Wang Preston's epic journey to photograph the entire 6,211km Yangtze River in China at precise 100km intervals. The Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds for the production of a book documenting the project. She has £13,783 pledged of £15,000 goal, so £1,217 is still needed for the project to be realized.

Copyright Yan Preston 2
Y2 - 100km from the river source

Concept - The Y Points System
Mother River is a four-year project (2010-2014) for which the British-Chinese artist Yan Wang Preston (born 1976) photographed the entire 6,211km Yangtze River at precise 100km intervals with a large-format film camera.

As China’s ‘Mother River’, the Yangtze is usually celebrated by idealistic images of iconic places. With Mother River, Yan Wang Preston conceptually undermines the deep-seated preference towards certain river places and their landscape representations. The equally spaced photographic locations produced no picturesque views or sublime concrete structures. Instead, a set of accidental and vernacular landscapes that have never or rarely been photographed before are produced. 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 saturated imagery, fresh views can still be attained by conducting ambitious, physical and personal mapping.

Copyright Yan Preston 5
Y17 - 1,600km from the river source

The process-physical, unpredictable, uncertain
Beginning at 5,400 meters above sea level in the uninhabited zone of Tibetan Plateau, the Yangtze River flows through majestic mountains with almost impossible access before hitting the industrial lowland near Shanghai. This makes the project a modern time adventure. Nature provides many potential hazards, including high-altitude sickness, off-road driving, floods, sandstorms, earthquakes, landslides and mudslides. The photographer had to deal with intense physical and intellectual challenges across extreme diverse terrains. Consequently, the realisation of Mother River project did not come without incident. Two locations (Y15 & Y16) remain unreached while twenty-four locations (Y39 - Y62) originally had badly exposed images because Preston loaded the films back-to-front by mistake. Yet it is precisely these imperfections that testify to the physicality of this highly conceptual project and give it a human touch.

Project Recognitions:
Mother River  has been shown in seven solo exhibitions in prestigious venues including the 56th Venice Biennale, China Three Gorges Museum, Wuhan Art Museum, The Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Lianzhou Fotofestival, Gallery of Photography Ireland and Impressions Gallery. It won the Shiseido Photography Prize (Beijing, 2016) as well as Reviewers Choice Award, Clifton Camera Award and Genesis Imaging Award at FORMAT (Derby, 2014). It was nominated for Prix Pictet Award twice (2016 & 2017) and The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2018).

Copyright Yan Preston 7
Y25 - 2,400km from the river source

Further reading:

Artsy: These Revealing Images Capture the Plight of China’s Environment

Lensculture - Video Interview: Mother River: 6,200 Kilometers From Source to Mouth of the Yangtze

CNN: Capturing the majesty of the Yangtze River, 100 km at a time

Irish Times: ‘Mother River’: photographs of life along China’s Yangtze

WPO: Yan Preston's Mother River

The Mother River photobook:
The book will be published by Hatje Cantz and designed by award-winning designer Julia Wagner. It includes a Y Points System map and all the 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 of The Royal Photographic Society respectively. A detailed diary entry of Y16 by Yan Wang Preston is also included.

Book specifications:

  • Hardcover, flat spine
  • 33cm by 27.5cm (landscape format)
  • 62 colour plates
  • 160 pages
  • LuxoArt Smart Paper, 170 g/m2
  • 1,500 print run.
  • Release date: October 2018.

Copyright Yan Preston 14
Y45 - 4,400km from the river source

Why does Yan need your support?

“For its scale and ambition, Mother River has always been a difficult and costly project. To complete the shooting, I had to mobilise all my available resources. I gave it everything I had and took no compromise. Now it is finally time to produce the book as the natural home of Mother River. Again, I would like to make the best possible book without taking compromises. This again needs financial backing. I have invested all my savings to cover part of the book production costs (printing, binding, design and essays.) However, I am still missing about £15,000. I am confident that with our collective effort, the book can be successfully realised.

If you are interested in the book and the story of Mother River, this campaign would be a perfect opportunity to support the project by pre-ordering the book or purchase the various package offers. And, I would be very grateful if you could help spread the word about this campaign with your family, friends and colleagues.

Thank you very much for your support.”

Copyright Yan Preston 18
Yan Wang Preston

To offer your support to the Kickstarter campaign visit:

To learn more about Yan Preston’s work visit:

All images copyright: Yan Wang Preston