Yan Preston – ‘Mother River’ (2010-2014)

© Yan Preston (2010-2014) 'Y61 6,000km from the river source'

Yan Preston’s vast project Mother River which spanned 5 years (2010-2014) utilises strategic planning to produce random and varying results.

Preston split the river Yangtze, otherwise known as China’s ‘Mother River’, into 63 equal parts along the length of the river on a map. Preston then photographed with a large-format camera those corresponding points along the river. The river Yangtze is 6,211km long which shows how monumental the project was in terms of scale. By planning strategically and splitting the river up like this, Preston arrived at 63 random photographs (or 61 in actuality as 2 of the locations Preston failed to reach). In adopting this strategy, Preston ‘avoided most of the picturesque views or colossal concrete structures, which are frequently visited by photographers.’ – (yanwangpreston.com, 2018). I found this fact ironic because Preston in my opinion produced results that were more alluring and varied than the picture-postcard views that are typically taken of the river Yangtze.

© Yan Preston (2010-2014) 'Y2 100km from the river source'
Fig. 1 © Yan Preston – ‘Y2 100km from the river source’ (2010-2014)

I feel Preston’s strategic approach fits firmly into one way of using psychogeography in the landscape. I have written about this approach in more detail in Paragraph 2 of the post Psychogeography in Body of Work. This approach functions in order to produce photographs that don’t fall into the trap of succumbing to the photographer’s selective whim, which more often than not in my experience comes down to their aesthetic sensibilities. In other words many photographers create photographs that are aesthetically-pleasing because they themselves are actively selecting the viewpoint to photograph from. Of course there are exceptions to this trait but I for one feel it is my natural inclination to produce aesthetically-pleasing (and conversely perhaps less rhetorically interesting) photographs when I’m actively selecting their viewpoint. Therefore by Preston limiting her input in the selection of the viewpoint by strategically planning beforehand, Preston produced less redundant images (referring to a term introduced by Vilém Flusser in Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983)).

I would say Preston is successful in compiling an alternative and captivating look at the river Yangtze by taking up such a strategy. Preston’s approach provided a framework within which she could work. Most of the photographs would fit into the genre of landscape. However, there are some environmental portraits and interiors which signal Preston was working freely and creatively within the confines of the strategic framework she had already set-up. It seems quite illogical to me that by being more strategic, the results can be more random! However, as Preston’s approach and others including Pedro Guimarães with BlueTown (2010) (as explored in my Psychogeography post on Body of Work) demonstrate, being strategic beforehand often provides successfully random and interesting results.

© Yan Preston (2010-2014) 'Y61 6,000km from the river source'
Fig. 2 © Yan Preston – ‘Y61 6,000km from the river source’ (2010-2014)

In Paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of the post Liz Wells – Land Matters – Chapter 6, I reference that I have had some trouble figuring out a similar strategy for photographing Deptford. There is a river nearby to Deptford (the Thames) but it runs alongside it and I am currently unable to arrive at a convincing strategy for a map-based psychogeographic exploration of Deptford otherwise. I don’t necessarily feel it is imperative to use this approach but as I have further discovered with Preston’s Mother River (2010-2014) project, the results can be fascinating.


Fig. 1 Preston, Y. (2010-2014) Y2 100km from the river source [Photograph] At: https://www.worldphoto.org/blogs/12-05-16/yan-prestons-mother-river (Accessed 22/08/2019).

Fig. 2 Preston, Y. (2010-2014) Y61 6,000km from the river source [Photograph] At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/03/exhibition-mother-river-by-yan-wang-preston/ (Accessed 22/08/2019).

Flusser, V. (1983/2014) Towards a Philosophy of Photography. (3rd ed.) London: Reaktion Books

Guimarães, P. (2010) BlueTown. At: http://pedroguimaraes.net/studio/index.php?/albums/bluetown-1/ (Accessed 01/04/2019).

Preston, Y. (2010-2014) Mother River. At: https://www.yanwangpreston.com/projects/images (Accessed 22/08/2019).

yanwangpreston.com (2018) Mother River. At: https://www.yanwangpreston.com/projects/images/text (Accessed 22/08/2019).


4 thoughts on “Yan Preston – ‘Mother River’ (2010-2014)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s