Yang Yi was born in Kaixian 1971, Chongqing, China and currently lives and works in Chengdu. The majority of YI’s family had been highly interested in art or had a career in art, though YI never considered pursuing career in art when he was younger, his parents encouraged the artist from within but also gave him freedom to do as he wished. A very relaxed view for a Chinese family.
Yi studied Graphic Design at University; once he graduated, he set up his own advertising agency in Chengdu from 1993 to 2004 but later felt disheartened by commercial market. In 2006, Yi decided to go to the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts for a year and study a course in photography. Once he completed the course, he found it benefited his artistic vision and practice. It made him realise, the immensely powerful tool photography can be in helping to combine all the senses.
In 1994 the river Yangtze’s dam floated, which sadly submerged entire towns and cities under water. As The Yangtze River is a motif of creative expression it comes as no surprise that many artists were subsequently drawn to create a response to the disaster, artists such as Edward Burtynsky, Chen Nong. Of course being that Kaixian is Yi’s hometown, one of the many areas, eventually eradicated by the floods especially were in close proximity to the river. Yi would of course have to create the series ‘Uprooted’. Yang Yi wanted to document a tragedy that affected the lives of millions, but also a disaster that describes Yi’s identity and magical memories of childhood bliss. The Chinese government decided to plan a construction along the Yangtze River to transform the methods they used to produce the countries energy. The Three Gorges Dam Project was very controversial but got the go ahead to help stop the heavy flow of water as Yangtze River floods frequently due to high level of pollution.
Yi felt inspired by his dream to make the photographic series in 2008, though Yi was not present at the time of the flooding and was therefore unable to witness the damage done as he had moved away 15 years before this period due to his career. YI found it very distressing on the return to the town he loved so dearly, so full of joy and life it was no longer the place he once called home, destroying his childhood memories forever.
In 2006 when Yi started the series Uprooted he was not entirely sure of the emotions he felt about the series and so in 2007, it became hard for Yi to pinpoint if they were evocative of emotions of youth, infused with the grief of losing his childhood home. Retrospectively, he found that he cherished them more than ever. YI found that he wanted to embrace and cling on to everything in the pictures. Yi felt eternally indebted to, not only this town, but also the people whose roots were there. Whilst sleeping Yi had a terrible dream, Yi was back in his hometown, drowning in the torrent of the Yangtze River. The prophecy he had experienced fulfilled, and his home was lost forever.
“One morning, I don’t remember when exactly, I woke suddenly in a sweat, my heart pounding in panic. I remember just a hazy memory of my dream. In the dream, I was clothed, walking up and down familiar alleyways. I revisited my old school and was in a sense blinded by the dazzling light radiating from the cinema; I visited the riverside where I used to swim, the rooftops where I would retreat for a breath of fresh air, the winding pathways… Everything was eerie and shrouded in darkness, deserted; no friends or relatives were anywhere to be seen. In my dream, bubbles were rising and objects floating: where were they coming from? It became more and more difficult to breathe, I desperately tried to grab hold of something, I screamed but no sound came out…”
YI foreshadows an evocative moment expressing how the dam will eventually engulf everything in its path silencing it into a destitute ruin. YI captures and evokes a subterranean echo of its former self a seemingly beautiful quiet town inevitably forgotten. Photographing the last few inhabitants of the city, he conceptually submerges them in water, displaying the vernacular, daily settings, a hopeful sign that these memories will linger on. As a distinctly nostalgic: ethereal quality in the bestowed captured image. The photographer’s subjects wore diving goggles but he shot the various aqueous effects separately in a water tank, before marrying the two in Photoshop.
Yi completed the majority of the work between 2007 and 2008. It took slightly more than a year to finish the project. Yi attempted not to emulate any particular trends or styles, but tried to work with a variety of techniques. Yi instructed the models to wear diving goggles, and shot the scenes in medium format. The river water subsequently shot separately, light and air bubbles indicate the foam, creating the look with a transparent fish tank and the use of a digital camera. Subsequently Photoshop was the preferred mode used to combine both elements.
I think that it is extraordinary that Yi had already seen within the photography branch that you could combine all the senses to make such a statement through photographs. YI looks at his own identity through his hometown, lost forever. A profound tragedy to lose such magical memories in such a short period. I feel extremely empowered by YI enabling me look into my own identity, how my lymphoma could become part of my defined identity. I want to challenge the tragedy within myself and turn it into an inspiring uplifting story hoping in some way it should be therapeutic to me and to others.
To tell such a horrific story I would like to take inspiration in the use of submerging photographs underwater, to add rotary effect overlays on top of still photographs. I feel I could achieve this with the see-through bath, water and a projector so that I can capture the essence of this work but with my own twist therefore relating to my own personal story, much as YI has done. The way in which Yi looks at the daily life makes me want to draw attention to distinct vernacular objects, lymphoma is so hard to depict as a disease process as it is essentially a normal process that over reacts and therefore becomes abnormal. This is something I would like to incorporate in my work, I would like to display the hidden stories illustrated within my work.
Post-photography : the artist with a camera – by Robert Shore – Page 234-235