William Yang: Stories of Love and death 

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       March 21, 2016


Author  Helena Grehan, Edward Scheer

Distributor:       Booktopia/Amazon 
ISBN:                 9781742234601
Publisher:         New South Publishers
Release Date:   February 2016  

Website:    http://www.newsouthbooks.com.au 

That William Yang is a complex man is perhaps an understatement for a man who, over his lifetime as photographer has managed in one way or another to capture the essence of life and death, along with all the many facets in between which go to make up the human psyche, the human essence, the quintessential imperfection that contributes to the highs and lows of culture, race and creed.

That Helene Grehan and Edward Scheer have taken on this ground breaking work is timely as Yang, like many of us who have graced or disgraced this world for so long, has a story that is well worth the telling, the researching of what is billed as his ‘self-portraiture’, something so few ever get to have documented in this style, is also a retrospective view on how the culture of Australia has also changed so dramatically over the past 50 years.

As a child growing up in Australia in a country still influenced to some degree by the ‘White Australia policy’, his mother strived to have her children grow up as Aussie’s, not Chinese. He was six years old when he discovered he was indeed Chinese. His relationship with the fact that he was Chinese, which is complex, is ironic as he has spent much of his life using his ethnicity in the construction and execution of his many, many works.

His photographic works are created from life in the raw; his detailing of the first Sydney Mardi Gras through to the social and political upheaval the debate on Marriage has created makes a poignant statement on civil rights and liberties; His film Friends Of Dorothy goes much further in that the myriad of images tells a story of the AIDS pandemic, the effect it had on the social fabric of Australia and the long slow struggle to stem the terrible toll of this insidious disease.  It is also a reflective and informative statement on the emergence of what is now known and accepted as the GLTG (Gay, Lesbian, Trans-gender) community within Australia.

As he further explored the various dimensions of photography his experimenting with writing onto slides to make a further statement from a photograph gave him his personal trademark; an arena where he could add his personal ‘take’ on the subject portrayed.

His long and colourful life has created many treasured moments through his performances, once again coupled with his photography, his documentaries always with a strong social commentary to the content, his works often sad, depicting loss, the need to change, the changing of a society from straight laced to exactly the opposite, have created a legacy of understanding as evolution moves relentlessly forward.

Captured within the 100 photographs throughout the book there are in each instance, moments, events, people that have, and still do, mean something special to Yang. The chapter focusing on his personal life gives a wonderful, rich glimpse into a life that many may view as serious but as with all things has another lighter, fun side.

For fans and followers of William Yang this is a must have as the richness of the content needs to be able to be absorbed, chapter by chapter, in the manner in which it was created, slowly and gently.

Each chapter also contains so many gems on and about the life of a man who would have to rate up there in the elite as far as documentation of social and cultural change within Australia, both photographically and within the written word.