Mother River

Yan Wang Preston launches Mother River Kickstarter

British-Chinese photographer Yan Wang Preston has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a photobook of her Mother River series.

The four-year project saw Preston photograph the entire 6,211km Yangtze River at precise 100km intervals with a large-format film camera.

The resulting work has been described by Zelda Cheatle as a ‘work of genius and an eye-opening experience’.

To support the production of the Mother River book, Preston has launched a Kickstarter campaign which will run until June 30.

China’s ‘Mother River’

As China’s ‘Mother River’, The Yangtze is usually celebrated by idealistic images of iconic places.

With this project, 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 but a set of accidental and vernacular landscapes that have never or 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,” says Preston.

“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.”

Backing the campaign, Cheatle described the result as ‘truly astonishing’ that ‘resonates on so many different levels’.

‘Physical, unpredictable and not without risk’

Preston’s journey began at 5,400m above sea level in the uninhabited zone known as the Tibetan Plateau.

“From here, the Yangtze River flows through majestic mountains with almost no access at all, before hitting the industrial lowland near Shanghai,” she says.

“Inhospitable terrain and huge distances made this project a modern-day adventure, with many potential hazards including high-altitude sickness, off-road driving, floods, sandstorms, earthquakes, landslides and mudslides.

“I had to deal with intense physical, intellectual and emotional challenges across wide-ranging terrains, often extreme.”

The Mother River project wasn’t without incident.

Preston never reached Y15 and Y16. Twenty-four locations had to be re-shot after she loaded the films back-to-front by mistake resulting in poorly-exposed images.

However, for Preston, these issues add to the project rather than detracting from it.

“It is precisely these imperfections that testify to the physicality of this highly conceptual project, and which also give it a particularly ‘human’ touch,” she says.

Kickstarter campaign

Preston hopes the Kickstarter campaign will extend Mother River’s journey and concept.

“With your help, the ultimate legacy for Mother River will be the stunning, collectable photobook that I’m hoping to produce,” she says.

Apart from the usual offers such as books and prints, Kickstarter rewards include:

A limited-edition, ‘low-fi’ postcard-book of pictures from all the 76 beds Preston slept on during the journeys.

Handmade ‘wrong’ prints – Preston loaded the films back to front by mistake, but the results are very interesting.

A masterclass to try a mini Point System (shoot across equal distances) in Hebden Bridge where Preston lives.

You can find out more about the Kickstarter campaign here.

Yan Wang Preston

Yan Wang Preston is an award-winning British-Chinese artist.

Mother River has won the Shiseido Photography Prize (Beijing, 2016) and Reviewers Choice Award, Clifton Camera Award and Genesis Imaging Award at FORMAT (Derby, 2014).

Nominated for the Prix Pictet Award and The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, it has been shown in seven prestigious solo exhibitions.

Preston will be taking over the Spectrum Photographic Instagram account from Monday, June 18, to Friday, June 22.

You can see more of her work at

Main image: Y13 1,200km from the river source. From Mother River series (2010-2014) by Yan Wang Preston

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