In Chongqing, the largest city in southwest China, city officials have been planting trees for over a decade, aiming to create a “forest city”. But after investigating the origins of these trees, photographer Yan Wang Preston uncovered a troubling process. “The whole concept of trying to be green is being abused,” she says.
By way of example, she tells the story of Frank – a 300 year-old tree that’s a central character in her new book, Forest. When Preston first encountered Frank in 2013, he was being forcefully removed from a small village that was soon to be flooded by one of the Yangtze River dams. Frank was sold to the owners of a five-star hotel in a nearby county for 250,000 RMB, approximately £30,000. When asked whether the tree would survive, one of the guards replied with pride, reassuring Preston that they were all experts at transplanting trees.
But when she returned in 2017, Frank had been dead for over two years – and so had the tree that had followed it. “The older the trees are, they more likely they will die, because it’s hard for them to adapt to a new environment,” says Preston. “I’m interested in the complicity of this whole thing. For the tree, it’s very sad to be relocated. But then, the ultimate motivation is to be closer to nature”.
For more than 40 years, Peter Mitchell has been quietly making photographs of his surrounding environment in the north of England. He’s done so with the minimum of fuss, without any fanfare or desire for the public eye. Now he’s finally been awarded his first major survey show, A New Refutation of the Viking 4 Space Mission, opening a week before the closing of his exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles. A recluse he may be, but Mitchell is also extremely influential. “It’s a mystery to me,” he says with a shrug, when I ask him how he’s achieved such a feat. “But there you go.”
“I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead an organisation I have admired for so many years,” says Shoair Mavlian of her new role, director of Photoworks. “I look forward to working with the team, developing partnerships and supporting artists at local, national and international levels to connect new audiences with photography.”
Inspired by personal identity, the natural world, and the fear of dying, the three young artists in this year’s Jerwood/Photoworks Awards exhibition are presenting very different work. Picked out as winners in January 2017, all three have received a year of mentoring on their work from industry specialists such as photographer Mitch Epstein, publisher Michael Mack, and gallerist Maureen Paley. They each also received a bursary of £5000 and access to a production fund of another £5000, to make new work which goes on show in London’s Jerwood Space from 17 January-11 March then tours to Bradford and Belfast.
Yan Wang Preston’s Mother River is both a physical odyssey through China and a metaphor for its evolution, travelling from the traditional culture still seen to be seen at its source through to the rampant modernisation approaching its mouth. “Modernisation is reaching everywhere in China, although in Tibet the degree of modernisation is not the same as in Shanghai,” Wang Preston tells BJP. “I wanted my pictures to document this gradual change along the river’s journey.” Born in China, Wang Preston originally studied Clinical Medicine in Shanghai – a family choice which she had never felt passionate about, she says. She worked as an anaesthetist for three years after graduating, but eventually quit took a break to go rock climbing. “During this process, I met a British climber and ended up marrying him,” she says. “I knew that I’d come to live in the UK at some point.” Making the move in 2005, she found that “the prospect of living a new life in a new country presented itself as an opportunity to choose my own destiny”. A keen …
The British-Chinese photographer topped the Professional Commission category with a long-term project titled Forest, which explores the relationship between urbanisation and nature, via China’s tree-dealing business. She’s received a US$15,000 cash prize, plus up to $25,000 to expand the project. Preston’s work will go on show at Somerset House from 09 March – 28 March, alongside the other winners and a curated selection of other work from the competition, which was themed Grow-Conserve this year. Preston is also showing work at Impressions Gallery from 31 March – 24 June – a solo show called Mother River, which was shot over four years along the Yangtze River. The river measures some 6211km from source to delta, and Preston used a strict system and large-format camera to make images every 100km along its length. Second prize in the Professional category in the Syngenta award went to San Francisco-based photographer Lucas Foglia for his series Frontcountry – a project previously featured in BJP. First prize in Sygenta’s Open competition went to Kenneth O’Halloran for a photograph depicting rice production in Tonte, Togo. Matt …