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Photography (MA)

Ou Lin

Ou Lin (b. 1997) is a Chinese visual artist based in London and Wenzhou who works primarily in Photography and Performance. Before coming to the RCA to deepen her practice, she studied Photography (BA) at the London College of Communication.

At the RCA, her work has focused strongly around an exploration of the maternal body, critiquing stereotypical ideas drawn from both eastern and western cultures.

Her present work offers a Feminist perspective of the gestating body from material and psychological angles. It presents a radical rethinking of the stereotypical versions of the happy, suffering and idealised pregnant woman as represented in art history and contemporary culture.

Show Location: Battersea campus: Dyson & Woo Buildings, First floor

Ou Lin is interested in expanding the creative practice of maternity in relation to photography. She has created two series of experiential photographs of the gestating body that invite the viewer into an encounter with very matter of the pregnant body – the breath, the weight, the balance and ultimately the psychological tensions and dynamic physical forces at play. 

The collaborative and interactive methods Ou employs with her models draws on ideas from older instructional photography and wider modes of performance. Most of her models are Chinese which shifts the socio-political context of sexual reproduction away from a presumed solely Western norm. The photographic studio becomes a laboratory for her to explore the visual iconography of pregnancy, and progress it from invisible to transgressive. 

Ou’s work developed out of research with the female figure and stories of the sports in Western mythology. Her work takes exercise as its focus: it is very dynamic, the subjects looking powerful and they are attempting to hold a balance.

Ou is interested in the rich history of photography and how the still image can explore movement and a narrative journey by turning the gestating body into a body in an image. She links her work with Muybridge, a historical precedent for aspects of her work, which are to do with the narrative drive and an interest in a continuous dynamic process.

Preparations for Birth #1, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 68 × 102 cm
Preparations for Birth #2, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 102 × 68 cm
Preparations for Birth #3, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 102 × 68 cm

This is about reconstructing the restrictive representation of the gestating body in white studio spaces. Ou’s interest is in finding relationships between performing, pregnancy and photography. She sourced instructional photographs featuring women on the internet and in vintage books, and used these to ‘teach’ her model how to do the exercises. This research fed the conceptual and poetic twist in her work.

The balloon is making the arrow measure up with the middle of the balloon. The relationship between them is reminiscent of Cupid. Juxtaposed against the hint of a violent impulse in the work is the women's ability to create and nurture life. 

Ou relates her work to the female perspective. The pregnant nude expresses the identity of the maternal and reminds the audience of the primitive and the force of nature. Vulnerable and exposed but at the same time, empowered.


Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print


102 × 68 cm, 68 × 102 cm
Stealing #1, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 60 × 80cm
Stealing #2, 2022, C-type print, 53 × 41 cm
Stealing #3, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 60 × 80cm

In this narrative work of a father holding his child from the starting line, he pushes forward, tense and focused. In each image, he runs faster and faster, leaping out of the frame. Inspired by Eadweard Muybridge, who looked at time and motion within the frame, Ou wants to show the process and narrative drive that was different from his work. The process of men running is reminiscent of the poetic aspect of evolution (recalling historical diagrams of the ape becoming man). 

In this group of photographs, viewers can imagine a pregnant woman going through gestation and then man stealing the baby. Men of the species take the labour out of the women for their own reward.


C-type print


53 × 41 cm
Line, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 27 x 36cm (each)
Milk Line, 2022, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth, Inkjet print, 27 x 36cm (each)

This shot shows a seven-month pregnant woman running from one end of the frame to the other with a long exposure, the passage of the movement like a line. 

The viewer can still identify her body when she is on her journey. The whole journey of the continuous process looks tiresome and challenging. The focus is her movement (the pure motion blur), her journey (the passage of time), and the constant battle of being in balance.

There is a deliberate echo of Muybridge here, but Ou wants to show the continuous dynamic process of gestation and a sense of duration rather than individual action. 

There are two versions, each creating a narrative. One has the line generated by the woman’s movement, showing a kind of balancing of the physical body. The second has two lines of running and white markings, showing the physical, psychological and emotional state of maintaining balance.

The second line is a white flowing mark drawn on the wall with milk, cream and soft cheese by her hand while she is running. Some handprints show struggling and power. This is connected to the pregnant woman’s body and experience, as well as referencing aspects of Performance Art and Abstract Expressionism.

This work explores the expressive potentialities of the gestating body. Creating an emotional landscape of bravery in response to restrictive attitudes to the gestating body, it elevates the neglected sexuality, emotions and energies felt during pregnancy.


C-type print


100 × 80 cm, 150 × 126 cm