Chinese Photographer Luo Lang Documents Motherhood In Series "Yumo"
Words: Stephanie Dando
In her decade-long documentation of adolescence in China, titled ‘Girls’, Luo Yang revolutionised Western conceptions of girlhood in a country we often believe to be seeing through a distorted lens. In a separate series, ‘Yumo’ - translated as ‘Be A Mom’ - Yang turns her renowned eye to motherhood; documenting a mother and son throughout eighteen still images that have an air of familiarity, resembling ones very own family photo album.
Yang has almost always shot with 135 film, and ‘Yumo’ is no exception. Yang’s habitual photographic style holds special significance in this collection for the overall mood that is created. A mother and her son, the solo subjects of the series, are depicted naked at all times; while playing in the bath together, on their bed, lounging on the floor. We see an intimate scene between the two whilst the Mother teaches her son how to pee in the toilet. Yang herself said that “film…records reality” and this is what we get a sense of, a homegrown library of images with a soft yellow undertone that says nostalgia.
This sense of homely familiarity creates a kind of intimacy between the viewer and the subjects that erases the middleman, Yang the photographer, who is rendered unseen. This is in definite contrast to ‘Girls’, which were statement pieces where the relationship between subject and photograph was a prominent part of the dialogue; girl against the world and girl against the camera. In ‘Be A Mom’, you are watching something unfold as it always has and always will, audience or not. And that something is motherhood.
There is a coherent similarity between the photographs appearance and a normality that is a reminder of scrolling through someone’s phone pictures. This mundane reality of life is what stands out and makes the mother and son nudity a normality. While nudity is a trait we often associate with childhood - that kind of careless and complete lack of self-consciousness – the Mother’s nudity brings together a sense of maternal bonding. This is exemplified when she is teaching him how to use the toilet, perhaps a role she is also learning for the first time.
For 18 stills, there is actually very little topical evolution, meaning you come away from the collection feeling as though you have been cut off from something, a world, a narrative which would evolve to reveal so much more. The rhythm of each topical revelation - , moving between floor, to bed, to bathroom - leads you to believe that something is coming next, yet it never does. Or at least, not for us to see.