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Yuan Yao

Work / Photography

Yuan Yao’s recent project pays homage to the beauty of pregnancy and motherhood

The dynamic and profound experience of pregnancy and motherhood lie at the heart of photographer Yuan Yao’s most recent series. The story is one of life and death.

Nami, the subject of this series, had long wanted to document her own experiences of pregnancy and childbirth. She had a photographer in mind, who sadly passed away before this possibility was made into a reality. His death, however, brought her and Yuan together.

As Yuan explains, “we regularly met up to talk about the series and life in general. This frequently happened at her small apartment in Tokyo, well into the night. I can still smell the Tatami”. These photographs evoke an air of mystery and melancholy — an elegy to an old friend and a joyful call to new life.

The photographs allude to the works of the late Ren Hang and transport us away from the city into nature — where the world is one of natural, organic cycles, mist and mountains, sea, elements and a rush of the senses. On the topic of the setting, Yuan says, “we wanted to free ourselves from Tokyo, the symbolic metropolis and its suppressions”. Nami is documented alone in the beautiful Japanese landscape, a goddess-like figure of fertility. Her nakedness is stark against the green, and her red, blood-like clothes bold and brazen in front of the shape of Mount Fuji.

“Intimacy was a generous contributor to the photos”, Yuan tells us. The photos are deeply personal, and we feel we are sharing in a great journey, connected to Nami’s soft and wandering gaze. Spirituality plays deeply into the series, creating an aurora of awe. “Once we got lost and because of that we experienced Mount Fuji from up-close, as well as the birth of a calf”, the photographer explains. “It was on Nami’s birthday, and oddly enough her Chinese zodiac sign is the ox”. The project is filled with these magical moments. Paralleled with the beauty and strangeness of pregnancy, the photographs grow and evolve along with the child.

“This series is just one part of a whole project”, Yuan tells us. “A lot of photographs were captured during and after the time of Nami’s labour — moments that are very real and touched me viscerally”. Motherhood brings forth another dimension of love and strength, and this project brought together the two in ways rawer than friendship; it opened Yuan’s eyes to the ideals of fatherhood. “Parenting forces you to grow and put everything into perspective, which can involve shifts in identity”, he explains. “It’s very nurturing in return; you see the world through a brand new lens, another human beings eyes”. This curiosity and excitement seeps through into the photographs, and we are left longing to follow their story and the growth of the child.

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