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1 2 3 2 1

In 2012, Yuan Yao (they/them/theirs) moved from their native China to Japan. In Tokyo they befriended Nagakura Nami, who asked them to document her pregnancy and childbirth. This pact resulted in 1 2 3 2 1, a beautifully crafted, 304-page photographic memoir challenging customary views on gender, friendship, role models and motherhood. The camera explores intimacy and vulnerability, but also witnesses strength, elegance and resilience.  

Yuan engages with the metamorphosis of the body, spaces and rituals to touch the fragile fabric of life. Maintaining an affectionate vision, the sequence charts the transformative journey of two becoming three. As it seeks alternatives to prevailing models of representation, a symmetrical connection develops. The portraits are formed by both sides through a relationship of differences (multiplicity) and similarities (analogy).

Every image has its place in Yuan’s approach. Raw emotions, sensual portraits, charged cityscapes and tranquil natural sceneries coexist. It recalls If one thing matters, everything matters, the title of Wolfgang Tillmans 2013 exhibition at Tate Britain. 

At first glance, some of the pictures in 1 2 3 2 1 may seem overly seductive, perhaps even too sweet. But the book convincingly shows that such value judgements are meaningless, aesthetic criteria secondary, in this naturalistic portrait of a transitional period. This generous flow of authentic slices of life muses on time, femininity, boundaries, nature, care, reality and mystery.

Geert Goiris

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