In 2010 I decided to embark on the hardest adventure of my life, to photograph the entire 6,211km of the Yangtze River in China. I set myself a challenge to photograph the river every 100 kilometres – 63 pre-determined “Y points” – from the river source at 5,400 meters above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau, to the river mouth in Shanghai.

I had no idea what I was going to photograph, or whether I was even going to make it to the end.

Mother River Y Points System Shooting Plan
Mother River Y Points System Shooting Plan

After 8 trips and 1,200 sheets of Kodak Portra shot on my Linhof Master Technika Classic with 150mm Rodenstock lens – in temperatures ranging from -30 to 44 degrees C, I finally stood with my feet in the sea. I want you to join me on this journey by helping me making the Mother River photobook possible.

As the Mother River of China, Yangtze is typically represented by grand images of very few, special locations. I wanted to challenge this by photographing all of the river with its wilderness, abandoned beauty, everyday people and places.

The book tells a story of modern-day China. It also tells a story of uncertainties and being in the moment. Among the many images, there are two very special “red pictures” because I loaded the sheets back-to-front by accident. There is also one picture with lens flare. For me, these pictures tell the physically of the project.

Mother River has already been shown at seven solo exhibitions in prestigious international 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). It has been featured in many TV, radio, newspaper and online journals.

With your help, the ultimate legacy for Mother River will be the stunning, collectable photobook that I’m hoping to produce: The Mother River photobook. To reflect the epic character of the project, the book we are planning to produce will be large, with a beautiful and timeless design, produced and printed to the highest quality:

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  • Hardcover, flat spine
  • Essays by Jem Southam, Liz Wells and Michael Pritchard
  • 33cm by 27.5cm (landscape format)
  • 62 colour plates, 160 pages (LuxoArt Smart Paper, 170 g/m2)

The book will have a limited run of 1,500 copies and is scheduled for release in October 2018. To support the production of Mother River book, a Kickstarter campaign has just been launched and will run until the 30th June. The campaign is designed to extend the project’s journey and concept. Apart from the usual offers such as books and prints, there are also:

A limited-edition, ‘low-fi’ postcard-book of pictures from all the 76 beds that I slept on during my journey.
Handmade ‘wrong’ prints—Preston loaded the films back to front by mistake, but the results are very interesting.

On the 16th November 2013, I finally stood in the Yangtze River mouth near Shanghai. There was a calm sense of clarity in my mind. I had learnt about this mighty river, in a way that no one else had. I had already learned about my motherland, and about myself, like I had never known before. It is now nearly 5 years since then. The Mother River project has taken me to many new destinations with its exhibitions but the book will be the ultimate legacy. It is something that I, and you, make together and offer to history.

It is a story about modern China as well as hard, personal endeavour.

Ultimately, it is about love.

~ Yan



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About the author

Avatar - Yan Preston

Yan Preston

I’m a British-Chinese artist based in West Yorkshire, UK. I was born in central China and trained in Clinical Medicine there. I worked as an anaesthetist in Shanghai before moving to the UK in 2005. That’s when I decided to become a photographer. I was...

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