All photographs © Yao Yuan
The Ones to Watch expertise’s first venture sees them apply concepts of concord to a pal’s journey to motherhood
In Chinese Taoism, it’s believed that each one issues, dwelling or different, have a spirit. The intention of steadiness, concord and interconnectedness lies on the coronary heart of its non secular and philosophical framework. An excerpt from Taoist scripture reads: “There’s something born of chaos; Created earlier than Heaven and Earth; Unvoiced, Formless; It stands alone, unchanging; Ceaselessly circling; The Mom of Creation; I have no idea its identify.”
Yao Yuan, a Chinese non-binary photographer based mostly in Antwerp, borrows these traces for the introduction to their not too long ago self-published photobook, 12321. Taoism is a key basis of their photographic apply, and certainly, basic psychological state. To create 12321, Yao collaborated with their pal Nagakura Nami on an intimate venture about her pregnancy and journey to motherhood. It was shot between 2017 and 2019, when Yao lived in Japan, and is their first main photographic collection. Set within the shadow of Mount Fuji, the venture developed intuitively and intensely, mirroring the closeness of their relationship. A religious connection to nature and Nami’s goddess-like presence shine via the work in salient color.
Editor, author and curator Chiara Bardelli-Nonino nominated Yao for Ones to Watch this year. “Every picture reads like a visible poem, exuding a quiet simplicity and an general sense of an unidentifiable, oneiric spirituality that I discover uncommon these days,” she says of 12321. “ Yuan and Nami’s relationship unfolding is like peeking at one thing sacred and ancestral, like an odd type of prayer.” She provides: “Yuan considers the idea of unity, duality and trinity referenced by the title with out ever being didactic; it’s actually exceptional: the work explores the themes of id, gender, ego, connectedness, of tradition and the way it shapes the world we stay in, of the continued pressure between nature and civilisation.”
Yao studied Japanese at Chengdu College, earlier than transferring to Tokyo in 2012 to review design. Regardless of no formal schooling in pictures, they started to experiment with the camera as a part of their apply. Early on, Yao felt restricted by the medium – the dearth of technical coaching a palpable insecurity. Solely not too long ago have they embraced this as a aspect of their private model. “It’s a strategy of turning into extra snug with approaching photographs as photographs,” Yao explains. “It doesn’t actually matter how they had been achieved technically.”
12321 marked an vital second in Yao’s life and apply – sharing awe-inspiring experiences with their pal, and studying how they need to visually categorical them. Yao has since left Japan and, after a quick stint again in China, moved to Belgium. In that point, their image-making, largely unconsciously, has turn out to be extra introspective. Yao explains that they weren’t positive of who they had been rising up, being nearly in denial about their id. Delving deeper into concepts of obscured id – particularly the necessity for brand new narratives round queerness – now underpins their analysis. Their visible enquiries centre on why sexuality carries such weight and significance in in the present day’s world.
“The work explores the themes of id, gender, ego, connectedness, of tradition and the way it shapes the world we stay in, of the continued pressure between nature and civilisation”
Yao makes use of the camera to ask questions, creating photographs that start as feelings or sensations: the aura of daylight when it hits a coat on a hanger, the attract of a unadorned physique swimming in clear water. The moments when one understands they’re witnessing one thing profound – of mortality and humbleness when gazing at one thing otherworldly, just like the second a child leaves the womb, or a luminous moon towards a boundless sky. “I’m within the indescribable, the unclear,” Yao says.
Going ahead, Yao hopes to maneuver in direction of vogue pictures, in addition to working on their archive for an upcoming private venture. An exhibition of 12321, chosen as a part of the Futures platform this year, opened at Fotomuseum in Antwerp on 23 June.
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