Posts Tagged ‘Australian gay liberation

15
Aug
21

Review: ‘William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen’ at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 22nd August 2021

Curator: Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Inkjet print, gold leaf on Innova Softex paper
40 x 30cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Family of Yang

Let me tell you a story… a story made up of many smaller tales, told to me by a chronicler, diarist, writer, performance artist and filmmaker; socio-documentary photographer and historian; master of oral history and storytelling – Chinese-Australian artist William Yang.

Voluminous amounts of text have been written about Yang’s art practice and for this reason I only offer here a brief precis of his fifty year career as an artist. Indeed, it is impossible to cover such an expansive career in performance, film, text and photographs in one posting. After the precis I offer some thoughts and insights into Yang’s work.

Yang was born in 1943 into a family of Chinese immigrants in Far North Queensland. After moving to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture, he journeyed to Sydney in 1969 where he helped produce plays. Yang picked up a camera and started taking photographs of his friends, celebrities, parties and the gay scene in Sydney, Australia in the early-mid 1970s. His first exhibition Sydneyphiles at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Photography in 1977 set him on his way. Personal reflections were written directly on the mounts around his photographs something that he was to adapt further, inscribing his stories directly on the photographs in later bodies of work (“an oral tradition of storytelling transferred to the physical medium of the photograph”). In 1989, Yang began performing monologues with slide projections in theatres, integrating his skills as a writer and a visual artist.

As can be heard in the exhibition curator Rosie Hays’ video talk below, Yang’s first period was as a social life photographer / commercial photographer, earning a living selling his photographs to gay newspapers; his second period encompassed investigations into marginalised communities: queer community, Australian-Chinese community, Indigenous communities and telling alternative histories of Australia including the history of his Chinese-Australian heritage; and in the third period, Yang’s work has become more reflective, interested in ordinary things, interested in the life of the human embodied in the landscape.

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As a documentary photographer and performance artist, Yang’s work has examined numerous linked themes. The artist investigates the intimate connections between dystopian and utopian worlds – for example, between the body racked by AIDS and the body beautiful (see above), or between the racism of his childhood and the acceptance of his Chinese heritage – as he probes the paradoxes of existence, those parallels streams of life and death, where one person looks death in the eye and the other doesn’t even know it exists… in that moment. And then proposes a reconciliation between past and present, personal and private, between the margins and the centre. Through his personal stories he exposes himself in the act of making his art, transcending his life in art. Ego drops away and he becomes entirely his own person, entirely himself, when he performs in his inimitable, self-deprecating style.

I have a suspicion, and I could be entirely wrong here, that at heart the young Yang was a very shy and insecure person. From personal experience I know that many introverts hide their shyness through extrovert behaviour, wanting to belong, wanting to be in with the in crowd, to be the life of the party. Yang was always there at any event opening or party, never without a camera, always ready to capture what life put before him because he wanted to belong. Then, to his great credit, instead of getting caught in a rut as many artists do repeating the same thing over and over again, he had the intelligence, will and creativity to push himself further, to take those next steps in his development as an artist and human being… to take those steps that descend, in metaphor, to the centre of the earth, to the centre of his existence. He was on that golden path of self discovery, another step in the evolution of himself. He wanted to know how he, and others, fitted into the great scheme of life. As a chronicler of moments, a chronicler of history, he speaks aloud the thoughts of his own becoming.

While photography is about capturing a moment and being a vehicle for storytelling, it is so much more than that. It can be about the relationship between the photographer and the subject and how that relationship evolves from a personal engagement to a universal engagement. It is the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens turned from a personal story into a universal story to which any human being can relate. Here we have empathy and humanity, diversity and racism, voyeurism and performance, public and private, bigotry and poofdom, decadence and death. The artist tells those stories, where personal is universal.

Yang is an national treasure, a living legend. People relate to William Yang. They reveal themselves to him because they feel comfortable in his presence, comfortable in his spirit and energy. He draws people to him, he is a sage – from the Latin sapere ‘be wise’ – who loves documenting people and their interactions with each other and with himself. He draws people into his orbit… and creates magical stories and intimate photographs about human existence. There is an undeniable virtu to the person and his work. All the subjects of his art are his family. Whether a celebration of life, an investigation into community, in joy and in sadness, we are all, always, part of the Family of Yang.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Queensland-born, Sydney-based photographer William Yang’s significant contribution to Australian photography spans five decades. Known for his reflective and joyous depictions of Australia’s LGBTIQ+ scene in the late 70s and 80s through to the present. Yang’s photography is informed by the cultural and political pressures of growing up as a gay man from a Chinese immigrant family in north Queensland.

This exhibition is a major survey of Yang’s work, which traces his career from documentary photography through to explorations of cultural and sexual identities and his depictions of landscape. Yang integrates a photographic practice with writing, video and performance. The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape.

Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity, Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to Yang’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable. There is confession and courage in his storytelling – his most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.

Text from the QAGOMA website

 

 

“Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.”

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Michael Desmond, Senior Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

 

“For me, seeing William’s images of men, swaddled in their desire, affection and easy love for one another, continues to disentangle something that’s been knotted up inside me for as long as I can remember. Asian men occupy a very specific idea in the Australian imagination – of being non-sexual, and therefore, undesirable – that we all inevitably internalise. The raw, unashamed sensuality of William’s imagery – of his unabashed desire for the men he captures, and the framing of Asian male beauty itself – is such a potent corrective. His images remind us that desire isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and that Asian men are desirable too.”

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Benjamin Law. ‘Bearing witness in the church of William Yang’ 2021

 

“I was a photographer, which means that I was a voyeur.”

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William Yang

 

“It was difficult to make ends meet as a playwright, so I became a photographer as a way of making money. I was attracted to the glamorous world. I wanted to be a part of it. One way of doing this, I thought, was to be a fashion photographer but i was terrible at it – I couldn’t cover up the flaws. I was better at covering parties and events.”

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William Yang, 1993

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at left, Stand Palm Beach (1981); at middle, The Pool at Bondi #3 (1987); and at right, Golden Summer (1987/2016, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
39 x 70cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Exhibition walk-through

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)
1947/2008
Photographer: Unknown
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 2/30
100 x 70cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alter ego' 2001

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alter ego
2001
Digital inkjet print on rag paper
68 x 88cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing the artist standing in front of his photograph Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984) (1984/2009, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #11 – William in scholar's costume (1984)' 1984/2009

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Life Lines #11 – William in scholar’s costume (1984)
1984/2009
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper, ed. 1/20
94.6 x 61.6cm
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2010
Photo: Carl Warner Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait #5' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait #5
2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
42 x 65cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

An exhibition of more than 250 works by Australian photographer and performance artist William Yang opens at the Queensland Art Gallery from tomorrow until 22 August, 2021. William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen spans the artist’s five-decade career and is the first major survey of his work to be presented by an Australian state gallery.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Director Chris Saines said Seeing and Being Seen referred to the artist’s view of the world through the camera lens. ‘Yang captures people across all walks of life, including celebrity artists, alongside photographic explorations that throw light onto subcultures and marginalised groups, and he does not turn away from unsettling narratives or uncomfortable truths,’ Mr Saines said. ‘We are thrilled to be presenting this major exhibition encompassing every aspect of Yang’s practice and highlighting his life-long fascination with people and storytelling. We are also premiering his major new performance ‘In Search of Home’ at GOMA.’

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said QAGOMA continued to take a leading role in showcasing Queensland-born artists, such as William Yang.

‘William Yang is a noted writer, performer and visual artist with an international profile and this exhibition is an important survey of his work, celebrating inclusivity and diversity,’ Minister Enoch said. ‘The Queensland Government’s support for QAGOMA helps ensure the Gallery will continue its legacy of celebrating Queensland artists and sharing works that tell our stories.’

The exhibition includes Yang’s prolific social portraiture which features prominent creative identities from theatre, film, art and literature such as Patrick White, Brett Whiteley and Cate Blanchett, his revelatory insights into the LGBTIQ+ community, and insightful images of the Australian landscape. Seeing and Being Seen also includes early social photographs of Sydney’s arts scene as well as the artist’s long exploration of his family and childhood experience in North Queensland which interrogate and celebrate his Chinese-Australian identity.

Rosie Hays, Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA and curator of Seeing and Being Seen said Yang’s identity as a Chinese-Australian, a gay man and artist informs his marginalised experience.

‘While the stories and images included in the exhibition are quite specific to William’s life, the emotions underpinning them are instantly recognisable and acutely relatable,’ Ms Hays said. ‘There is confession and courage in William’s storytelling. His most well-known works are often deeply personal and represent the means by which he reckons with his past, his relationships, and his experience outside the mainstream.’

Born in North Queensland in 1943, Yang grew up with little knowledge of his Chinese heritage. Even though his parents were second-generation Chinese-Australian, Cantonese was not spoken at home. After coming to Brisbane in the mid-1960s to study architecture at the University of Queensland, he moved to Sydney in 1969, and has lived and worked there ever since.

A major hard-cover publication accompanying the exhibition features essays by William Yang, curator Rosie Hays, Professor Susan Best and Benjamin Law.

Press release from the GOMA website

 

 

 

William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen / Illustrated Curator’s Talk

Exhibition curator Rosie Hays (Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA) traces William Yang’s reflective and joyous career, delving deeper into the artworks and themes addressed in Seeing and Being Seen.

 

 

 

Artist William Yang’s slideshow performance with stories and eyewitness images from Sydney’s thrilling and turbulent gay scene from the 1970s until now.

Yang is one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, a prolific photographer and a performer of monologues with slide projections. His stories describe the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s work presents a rich and celebratory visual record of this journey, from Gay Liberation in the seventies, to the emergence of the Mardi Gras and a gay subculture in the eighties, to AIDS in the nineties.

 

 

William Yang. Families and Fictions: Contemporary Photography from the Collection: Artist Talk, Queensland Art Gallery, 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) '"Mother Standing" Brisbane' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“Mother Standing” Brisbane (detail)
1981
Gelatin silver photographs, ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing photographs for Yang’s ‘About my mother’ portfolio

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Mother. Graceville. 1989' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Mother. Graceville. 1989
1989
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph ed. 2/10
51.3 x 61.1cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 2004
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery│Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing in the top image, Dawn, Central Australia #3; and in the bottom image at centre top, Doris Fish (1988, below)

 

William Yang. 'Doris Fish' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Doris Fish
1988
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The morning after' 1976

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The morning after
1976
Gelatin silver print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Morning sun raking through a window gently lights William Yang’s photograph of sleeping bodies and cast-off clothing, portraying ‘the morning after’ with the intimacy of the dawn. Yang photographed Sydney’s social scene of the 1970s and 80s, capturing wild times at discos, nightclubs and parties. Yang also captured the revellers at rest, photographing the supine forms of his naked lovers, night-clubbers passed out on city pavements and benches, and friends sharing makeshift beds on lounge-room floors.

Yang’s first solo exhibition in 1977, Sydneyphiles, was a frank depiction of the Sydney party scene and the emerging gay community. In their unposed realism, his photographs avoid any air of glamour, focusing instead on the unguarded moment and the spontaneous interactions between friends. The scrupulous honesty of his black-and-white documentary style is offset by his poignant and affectionate portrayals of those people and places familiar to him. His photographs are taken from the position of a participant in the worlds they depict, collectively describing the experience of coming to terms with his identity as a gay Chinese Australian. Yang’s visual stories are infused with a gently wry tone, mixing self-deprecating humour with insightful reflections on cultural identity. Here Yang has created images of the aftermath of intimate encounters, apparent in crumpled sheets and the shapes of sleeping bodies.

Text from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney website

 

William Yang. 'Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall' 1977

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Synthetic Diamonds at Paddington Town Hall
1977
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Alpha' late 1960s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Alpha
late 1960s
Gelatin silver photograph with fibre-tipped pen on fibre-based paper, ed. 6/10
26.7 x 40.2cm
Collection: The University of Queensland purchased 2001
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Ben Law. Arncliffe' 2016/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Ben Law. Arncliffe
2016/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
30 x 50cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'The Story of Joe' 1979/2020

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
The Story of Joe
1979/2020
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag; single-channel video
Print: 40 x 60cm; video: 16:9, 3:50 minutes, colour, sound; installed dimensions variable
Writer/Performer: William Yang; Director/Producer: Ben Latham Jones
Co-Director/ Co-Producer: Sophie Georgiou
Camera Operator/Editor: Dean Lever; Auslan
Consultant: Sue Jo Wright
Technical Assistant: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach' 1970s

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Bondi Beach
1970s
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Splashproof #1
1994
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

William Yang, like many of his fellow Australian photographers, cannot help but be fascinated with the beach. In 1969, Yang left Brisbane for the bright lights of Sydney, and he fell in love with the city. At a distance from his family and Queensland’s conservatism, Sydney provided an opportunity for reinvention.

It was here that he combined his two photographic passions – landscape and people. Yang embraced the bleached allure of the city’s eastern beaches and took many iconic photographs of Bondi, Tamarama and Clovelly. …

Yang’s beach images present a refreshingly different framing of the typical Australian beach scene. The usual shots of bronzed female bodies or recreational pursuits take a backseat. Instead, Yang takes immense joy in the male figure, and his works represent a desirous male gaze on desirable male bodies.

The beach captured Yang’s eye from early in his career. At the time he started exploring the beach in his new Sydney home, Yang was also a jobbing social photographer, capturing celebrities and the ‘beautiful people’ behind the scenes at A-list parties for magazines. His approach to this work was in the photo-journalist style of capturing the unguarded moment.

Of his passion for taking images of the beach, Yang is a romantic at heart and has said:

“There”s an impulse in me that makes me go for the runny make-up, the unguarded moment, the Freudian slip. I mean I could photograph the plastic bags in the water, the rolls of fat, but the beach brings out the romantic in me. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of it – the space, the surf, the sand and all that flesh. I’ve never gotten beyond the obvious.”

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: The Beach,” on the QAGOMA website 17 June, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Great Wave off Clovelly' 2005/2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Great Wave off Clovelly
2005/2016
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
40 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Lifesavers #3
1987
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle Fie Art Metallic Pearl
32 x 49.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story. Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.”

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Text from the ‘Under The Sun’ exhibition 2017

 

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The Power of Being Seen

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice. The artist spoke with exhibition curator Rosie Hays.

Rosie Hays: Are there stories you feel must be told? What draws you to the stories you tell from your own life?

William Yang: I [was] brought up as an assimilated Australian. Neither my brother, Alan, or my sister, Frances, or I learned to speak Chinese. Partly because my father’s clan was the Hakka, so he spoke Hakka, whereas my mother’s clan was the See Yap, and she spoke Cantonese, so English was their common language and that was what we spoke at home. My mother could have taught us Cantonese as it was generally left up to her to do that sort of thing, but she never did. She thought being Chinese was a complete liability and wanted us to be more Australian than the Australians. So, the Chinese part of me was completely denied and unacknowledged until I was in my mid-30s and I became Taoist. It was through my engagement with Chinese philosophy that I embraced my Chinese heritage. People at the time called me Born Again Chinese, and that’s not a bad description as there was a certain zealousness to the process, but now I see it as a liberation from racial suppression, and I prefer to say I came out as a Chinese.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Chinese New Year Party Year of the Rabbit
1999
Gelatin silver print
51 x 61.5cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My first big success was my show ‘Sydneyphiles’ at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1977. It was mainly about my social life in Sydney, with portraits of people I had met. Besides my own set of artistic types (I knew Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson), I brushed with celebrities on the social rounds working for magazines. The exhibition caused a sensation. I knew then that people were my subject. I found that they wanted to see themselves on the gallery walls, they wanted representation. A compromising photo might cause annoyance, but it was better than being left out. There has always been an appetite for celebrities, well, that was to be expected. A vicarious interest in celebrity life still fuels the media. But I showed many photos of the emerging gay community as well. Australian photos of this type had not been shown in institutions before and it got a mixed reaction. Some said that these works shouldn’t be shown at a public institution, but mostly the pictures were accepted, especially by the gay community. A few were angry with me for outing them, but mostly I was hailed as a hero and was metaphorically given the keys to Oxford Street. I sensed that the mood of the gay community at the time was this: throughout history our community has been invisible. These photos may not be pretty, but we recognise them, and we accept them. We want our stories told.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Four film directors' 1981

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Four film directors
1981
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
53 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Martin Sharp, Wirian
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Party at the Whiteleys', Lavender Bay' 1982

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Party at the Whiteleys’, Lavender Bay
1982
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
65 x 110cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at centre right, Brett Whiteley, Lavander Bay, Sydney (1975, below); and directly below this, Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney (2004, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney' 1975

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Brett Whiteley, Lavender Bay, Sydney
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After "Hedda Gabler." Wharf Theatre. Sydney' 2004

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Cate Blanchett: The star in her dressing room. After “Hedda Gabler.” Wharf Theatre. Sydney
2004
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
54 x 80cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

These days I don’t take as many photographs. I’m sorting through my collection, trying to get it into some sort of order, and trying to digitise the negatives and the colour transparencies […]. I don’t want to be a photographer who dies leaving a pile of mouldy negatives for someone else to sort out […]. Every time I look through my collection, I am surprised because I have largely forgotten what happened in the past. Photography is a major aid to memory and the photographer a witness to the past. A photograph captures a moment in time. You don’t have to do anything special for this to happen, just press the shutter. There is something in the nature of the camera to freeze these moments in time, and there is something in the nature of the world to change and move on, so these moments never occur again.

In the early 1980s I started to do slide projection. It started off as a way to show my colour photography. At the time the colour printing process, Cibachrome, was expensive, and projection was a cheaper way showing my colour images. In 1980 in Adelaide, I met Ian de Gruchy, who did slide projection as his main art form. I was interested in his dissolve unit – a device using two projectors where the projected images dissolved into each other. Music was used, usually minimal music, and the result was known as an audio-visual. When one projects slides, as in a living room slide show, there is a tendency to talk with the slides, explaining them, and I started to do that. I worked with audio-visuals for seven years during the 80s until I had nine photographic essays, or short stories, to string together into a one man show. It was called ‘The Face of Buddha’ and I presented it at the Downstairs Belvoir Street Theatre in 1989. I lost money on that show, but still consider it a success. Everyone liked the form, story-telling with images and music.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) "William Yang performing Sadness" Sydney 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
“William Yang performing Sadness”
Sydney 1992
Photo: Peter Elfes (from ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003)
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10 / 51.3 x 61.1cm
Purchased 2004
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Production still from Sadness' 1999

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Production still from Sadness
1999
Director: Tony Ayres
Image courtesy: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia and William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

“Allan was a landmark for Yang and for Australian documentary photography. The combination of simple, unadorned portrait photos and diaristic, handwritten commentary made each viewer feel intimately acquainted with the subject. The step-by-step progress towards death puts us on the alert for every passing emotion in Allan’s face – he is sad, stoical, cheerful, grim, frivolous and heroic by turns. At the end of his life he has become an empty husk. It’s a devastating slice of reality smuggled into an art gallery, a piece that stops viewers in their tracks every time it’s shown.”

.
Extract from John McDonald. “Devastating and intimate: the landmark photos that stop viewers in their tracks,” on the Sydney Morning Herald website April 1, 2021 [Online] Cited 09/08/2021

 

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) ''Allan' from the monologue 'Sadness'' 1992

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
‘Allan’ from the monologue ‘Sadness’
1992
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The most popular story was called ‘About My Mother’. I told the story about my mother’s family, how they came to Australia in the 1880s from Guang Dong province in China. My mother’s sister, my Aunt Bessie, married a rich landowner, William Fang Yuen, who was murdered by the white manager on his cane farm at Marilyan in north Queensland in 1922. I got an Australia Council grant to do my third performance piece, ‘Sadness’, in 1992. There were two themes: the first involved the AIDS pandemic in Sydney where many gay men, some of them my friends, were dying; and the second was a trip I took to north Queensland to talk to my relatives about William Fang Yuen’s murder. The two themes formed a powerful story about death and legacy. It was an immediate hit and toured Australia and the world. International entrepreneurs wanted my performance pieces, which they considered unique, not my exhibitions, so I kept doing more performance pieces and they became my main artistic expression.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'William in Cane Fields' 2008

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
William in Cane Fields
2008
From ‘My uncle’s murder’ portfolio 2008
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
59 x 91cm
© William Yang
Photograph: Jenni Carter
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self Portrait, Listening' 2017

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self Portrait, Listening
2017
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
38 x 60cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

The performance pieces changed my photographic practice. Before the 1990s, I made my living from freelance work. I would do whatever jobs people would pay me money to do. Then I found I could make a living doing my performance pieces, so I didn’t have to work for other people. I was able to channel all my energy into my own work and I became more productive. My performance pieces were about stories and I realised that many of my photos had stories behind them. I started writing the text directly onto the photo with a pen. My first series was about men with whom I had had encounters. All those photos had good stories. I have continued to do written works, as I call them, and the pictures with my handwriting have become the signifier of my work. Now I often choose images because they have a story.

Rosie Hays: Do you ever feel you’re telling other people’s stories, or are they your stories that happen to intersect with other people?

William Yang: When I ran out of my own stories, I wanted to tell an Aboriginal story because I felt the Chinese and the Aboriginal people had something in common: both had suffered under British colonialism. In my commissioned piece ‘Shadows’, I tried to tell an Aboriginal story about a community in Enngonia in north-western New South Wales, and it was successful in that I made myself part of the story, but I felt a little uncomfortable telling their story. Later I found someone, Noeline Briggs-Smith, who could tell her own story, and we did a story-telling duet on stage [called] ‘Meeting at Moree’, where we told alternating chapters of our stories on stage. She […] had a much stronger story than me. She had suffered more and worse injustices than I had, but there were interesting intersections in our stories.

Rosie Hays: Something we highlight in the exhibition is your connection to landscape. How would you describe your relationship to nature / the landscape, and has it changed over time?

William Yang: Most photographers have a go at nature. Everyone has photographed a sunset. I had my first serious encounter with photographing nature when I was recovering from a bad case of hepatitis at Frogs Hollow, Maleny, in 1979. I felt fragile from the illness and taking photos made me feel I could still do things. Looking at the photos now, the pictures are a beginner’s view. That’s the thing about nature: it’s been done a billion times before, and it’s difficult [to] escape cliché, but I had to start somewhere and I got a few good ones.

When I became Taoist, I took on a whole new philosophy. I came to appreciate nature, in the form of landscape, as a source and a driving force behind everything that exists. It was constantly changing and renewing itself. Everything about nature was beautiful because it was essentially always itself. I found I could apply a concept of beauty to nature, at least compared to the human nature I was photographing at the time. Later I began to see nature as a titanic struggle for survival […].

I came to realise that the landscape which moved me the most was the country around Dimbulah in north Queensland (on the Atherton Tableland), where I had grown up. It was part of my identity, part of my idea of home. I had absorbed it, it had imprinted itself upon me, and, although I did not realise it at the time – this was before I had articulated an artistic consciousness – it was there in my consciousness and I could draw upon it. So, in the early 90s, I made several trips up to Dimbulah, checking out the country that I remembered from my childhood. Nothing quite fitted my memories, but perhaps that’s a thing about childhood and memory. Nevertheless, I photographed a series on a medium format camera, trying to recapture memories. Now I enjoy returning to Dimbulah and seeing the landscape. It still triggers off emotions, but I feel they have become more distant. This text is from my print William at Thornborough, 2006:

“I have left these places and I have changed. These places still hold me but I move around these hills like a ghost. It is the motherland which formed and nourished me, from where I came, but to which I can never return.”

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Climbing Huang Shan' 2005

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Climbing Huang Shan
2005
Inkjet print on Innova Softex paper
41 x 48cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation view of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah (2016, below)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Boranup Karri Forest #1' 2018

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Boranup Karri Forest #1
2018
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah' 2016

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Return to the place of childhood. Dimbulah
2016
Inkjet print on Ilford Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag
50 x 150cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Installation view of the exhibition 'William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen' at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

 

Installation views of the exhibition William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) showing at lower left, Boranup Karri Forest #1 (2018, above)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Earth Below, Heaven Above' 2020 (still)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Earth Below, Heaven Above (still)
2020
Two-channel video, 16:9, 5:36 minutes, colour, sound
Editor: Jack Okeby
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

Rosie Hays: What are your aspirations as an artist? What is the aim for your work in the larger sense?

William Yang: Two of my most important realisations were, firstly, that I was not white but Chinese, and secondly, that I was not straight, but gay. I probably realised these at an early age, but it took me a long time to articulate the condition and to come to terms with it. Personally, I suffered more pain being a closeted gay than being Chinese. These are both big themes in my work. When I started including gay work in my exhibitions, some photographers told me it [was] a phase I was going through and I’d be better off dealing with universal issues. They were right, in a way, because by continuing to deal with marginalised issues, my audience base is much smaller. I would probably have made more money sticking with celebrity lives and continuing the status quo, but it is important for me to talk about being gay and to talk about racial difference, even if they are commercially unpopular subjects. Nowadays, there is more acceptance of being gay here in Australia, and likewise, there is more awareness of racial difference, but in the wider world this is not always the case. It is a cause worth pursuing, and documentary photography with a personal story thrown in is a good way of doing it. I want to acknowledge the activists around the world that have made social change happen.

I want my work to embrace my life. I’ve managed to live to a mature age – I was fortunate not to die young as many of my colleagues did during the AIDS pandemic. One lives a life, and I am not the same person as I was when I was younger. Then I had more energy, had more opinions, some of them obnoxious – in short, I had many of the traits of a young person that old people like to complain about. But one learns from life, and I have lived to this age and can see there is a shape to one’s life. It has to do with the things you believe in and the choices you make (I always knew being an artist would be a hard road), it is shaped by external forces beyond your control, and it is also shaped by luck. Still, I consider my life a fortunate one.

I think I like stories because they are about people and the world. They somehow embrace humanity. I would like my art to convey feelings, emotions, what it is like to be a sentient human: experiencing joy, laughter and sadness, to realise we are vulnerable, that we have our failings, we do bad things, but we are capable of forgiveness, kindness and love.

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA She spoke with the artist in 2020.

This is an edited excerpt of the original interview, which appears in the exhibition publication William Yang: Seeing and Being Seen, available at the QAGOMA Store

 

William Yang. 'Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922' 1990

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Deposition. Innisfail Court House. 1922
1990
From ‘About my mother’ portfolio 2003
Gelatin silver photograph on paper
51.3 x 61.1cm (comp.)
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchased 2004
© William Yang

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Self portrait #1' 1992, printed 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Self portrait #1
1992, printed 2013
Inkjet print on paper
87 x 119cm (comp.)
Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Grant
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art purchase 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang Self portrait #1 / A Director’s Perspective

Join QAGOMA Director Chris Saines CNZM as he discusses William Yang’s Self portrait #1 1992 (printed 2013)

 

 

William Yang’s work, intimate and considered, draws on the artist’s own lived experience. Yang’s personal stories inform his spoken-word performances and photography, and he often scribes these stories directly onto his photographic prints. Drawn to people, Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life, in the lives of his subjects, and in society. Adept at uncovering the unvarnished beauty and hidden foibles of our lives, storytelling is intrinsic to his practice.

 

Self Portrait #1

Yang’s unflinching photographic gaze draws from the documentary tradition. Since the 1980s, Yang has displayed an unyielding persistence in unearthing stories that society, or even his subjects, might prefer to remain hidden. His instinct and passion is to present the whole, flawed story, not just the glossy surface.

With stories such as his uncle’s murder, Yang courts his family’s disapproval by airing hidden family stories, balancing potential indiscretions with the importance of telling real stories that reveal experiences or communities often left out of public discourse.

In the mid 1980s, Yang met Yensoon Tsai, a young Taiwanese woman who would become a close friend. Tsai taught Yang the tenets of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which led him to explore his Chinese-Australian identity.

Throughout the late 1980s and 90s in Australia, multicultural stories emerged across various art forms. Yang was part of this wave of artists rejecting a suppression of their cultural histories, and who instead wanted to highlight and celebrate diversity. Yang travelled throughout regional and urban Australia documenting the lives of Chinese-Australians, and the landscapes reflecting the legacy of the Chinese in Australia, such as religious shrines and mining sites.

Self Portrait #1 is a landscape work (in the way Yang talks about landscape which is often rooted in people and place and memory) as much as it a portrait work. Capturing the landscape is part of Yang’s somewhat diaristic approach to processing his social and physical environment.

When Yang returns to the Queensland landscape from his childhood, he characterises it as a site to escape from. He needed to escape from racist school bullying, constrictive family expectations, and the dread that his sexuality may be met with disapproval. Yang revisits his childhood home regularly, and some of his most potent performances and photographs come from connecting family and place. The series ‘My Uncle’s Murder’ – and its recounting of an injustice borne of racism dating from 1922 – resulted from such a trip. In his later works, he makes an uneasy peace with these past experiences that are embedded in the landscape of his youth.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang’s work reveals unsettling narratives in his own life,” on the QAGOMA website 4 October, 2020 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Waiting for the Parade to Start' 2019

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Waiting for the Parade to Start
2019
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
56.5 x 85cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party' 1989

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Jac Vidgen and Akira Isogawa, Sweatbox Party
1989
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road' 1988

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Patrick White #1, living room, Martin Road
1988
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 2/10
45.6 x 36.4cm
Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant purchased 1998
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'My Generation (Brett Whiteley)' 1975 (detail)

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
My Generation (Brett Whiteley) (detail)
1975
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

My Generation

Queensland-born, Sydney-based artist William Yang describes a moment in Sydney when a number of creative groups came together to generate an artistic wave that swept across Australian society.

The intersections of the tight literary circle of Nobel award winner Patrick White and his partner, Manoly Lascaris, with the theatrical circle, their friends Jim Sharman and actress Kate Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, in turn, models frocks in the exuberant fashion parades organised by designers Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee, while artists Peter Tully and David McDiarmid extend the tongue-in-cheek Australiana of the two fashionistas’ outfits with witty accessories. Their parades and parties at retail outlet Flamingo Park, a magnet for influential people in business, politics and the arts, determined the look of the 1970s and early 1980s. Tully and McDiarmid used their bravura visuals to jump start the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, giving the event its unique and unforgettable style. The pair lived out a parallel lifestyle that might epitomise the Australian story of gay liberation, with its heady rush unfolding into aching tragedy.

Golden couple Brett and Wendy Whiteley enjoyed the creative atmosphere of the swinging ’60s and the plunge into a riotous world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Yang shows Brett painting, smoking and partying with the beautiful people, and his eventual deterioration as heroin took a fearful hold. The early death of their beautiful daughter, Arkie, was another aspect of this fated family history. Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee eventually split; Kee takes Danton Hughes, the son of Robert Hughes, as a lover; Danton suicides; Kee takes up Buddhism. Yang portrays lives that unfold, flower or wither: lives lived.

Yang’s generation is not life as reported in the newspapers but ‘as I saw it’: a personal account summed up as a litany of parties, of innocence lost and worldliness gained, a continuum of his search for contact and meaning. Like his contemporaries Rennie Ellis or Michael Rosen, William Yang is a social photographer, a recorder of life. His strength lies in creating a living testament, and his medium’s strength is that it is necessarily shared. He offers no moral tale, nor any notion of karma to underscore the events: just the three basic but vital stories – birth, love and death.

Extract from Michael Desmond. “William Yang: My Generation,” in Artlines 1-2009 in “William Yang: Portraits,” on the QAGOMA website 22 September, 2017 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'David Gulpilil' 1978

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
David Gulpilil
1978
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee' 1979

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee
1979
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian' 1980

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Richard Neville and Bob Geldof at Wirian
1980
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

In order to make a living as a photographer, Yang began his career taking candid shots of ‘beautiful people’ at parties and events for the social pages of newspapers and magazines. Yang rubbed shoulders with celebrities, artists and performers, and discovered that the camera was an entry pass to an exclusive backstage world populated by kindred spirits, with whom he formed close bonds.

Yang’s prolific social portraiture includes some of the most prominent people in Australian theatre, film, art and literature, with more than a few international cameos. A much-loved and trusted figure who is embedded into Sydney’s social fabric, Yang’s images are taken with the razzle-dazzle of celebrity, but little of its conceit.

Within the show is a salon hang ‘social wall’ which long predates Instagram. The selection of faces is reflective of Yang’s friendships and his abiding passion for the arts – they embody both the glamour of celebrity and provide behind-the-scenes insights into the lives of artists from a range of backgrounds. With a camera around his neck, Yang came to understand that he could ask his subjects a series of personal questions, and they would reveal more of themselves than they would during the course of casual conversation.

Representing only a fraction of Yang’s social photography, these images capture the almost compulsive nature of his passion for recording people and places. His gift for eliciting the essence of his subjects through portraiture – whether candid or posed – has been apparent his entire career.

Rosie Hays. “William Yang: Celebrity and Portraiture,” on the QAGOMA website 7 May, 2021 [Online] Cited 10/08/2021.

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Rainbow Angel Wings' 2003

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Rainbow Angel Wings
2003
Inkjet print on solid substrate Kapaplast
27 x 40cm
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras' 2013

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943)
Marriage Equality, Mardi Gras
2013
© William Yang
Courtesy: The artist

 

 

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Queensland 4101, Australia
Phone: +61 (0)7 3840 7303

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07
Feb
20

Exhibition: ‘Dressing up: clothing and camera’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2019 – 9th February 2020

Curator: Gareth Syvret

Artists: Gordon Bennett, Polly Borland, Pat Brassington, Eric Bridgeman, Jeff Carter, Nanette Carter, Jack Cato, Zoë Croggon, Sharon Danzig, Rennie Ellis, Elizabeth Gertsakis, Christine Godden, Alfred Gregory, Craig Holmes, Tracey Moffatt, Derek O’Connor, Jill Orr, Deborah Paauwe, David Rosetzky, Damien Shen, Wesley Stacey, Christian Thompson, Lyndal Walker, Justene Williams, Anne Zahalka.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Making an appearance

There are some stimulating and challenging works in this first exhibition curated by new MGA Associate Curator Gareth Syvret, who was parachuted into the project at the last moment. The curator has pulled together work that examines the complex interweaving of “cultural scenarios,” “interpersonal scripts,” and “intrapsychic scripts” that ground how the camera, and the photographer, picture our relationship to dressing up…. and how we see ourselves pictured by the camera.

In various ways, the works interrogate how clothes (or the lack of them) reinforce the postmodern fragmentation of the individual or group, the self being decentred and multiple, as when we change from work clothes, to drag, to leather, to wearing our footy beanie and scarf… and how these e/facements, these everyday performances (for that is what they are), camouflage or reveal our “true” nature. Do we dress up to fit in (to a tribe or group, or representation), or do we rebel against the status quo, as did that enfant terrible who refused all categorisation throughout his life, the Australian fashion pioneer Leigh Bowery. How do we turn our face towards, or away from, the camera? (turning away is a re/action to the power of representation, even if a negative one)

Firstly we must recognise that “cultural forms do not have single determinate meanings – people make sense of them in different ways, according to the cultural (including sub-cultural) codes available to them.” And secondly, we must acknowledge that, “the analysis of images always needs to see how any given instance is embedded in a network of other instances”1 through intertexuality – where we, reality, our representation, and the image, are just nodes within a network whose unity is variable and relative.

“Critical to understanding the construction of these constantly shifting networks in contemporary society are the concepts of weaving and intertexuality. Intertextuality is the concept that texts do not live in isolation, ‘caught up as they are in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network… Its unity is variable and relative’ (Foucault, 1973). In other words the network is decentred and multiple allowing the possibility of transgressive texts or the construction of a work of art through the techniques of assemblage [Deleuze and Guattari] – a form of fluid, associative networking that is now the general condition of art production.”2

This weaving of surfaces disrupts histories and memories that are already narrativised, already textualised. It disrupts this marking, the continual reiteration of norms, by weaving a lack of fixity into objects, namely how we see ourselves, how we pictures ourselves. Through dress, and the camera, through a constant process of reconceptualisation of space and matter, we can redefine the significations of the body of the animal in the fold of inscription, through a process of materialisation. The production of this materialisation (the matériel, or arms, of sartorial elegance) – of this signified – is open to struggle, the simulation “by virtue of its being referent-free invites a reading of a different order: it is a perpetual examination of the code.”3 A code which, Julia Kristeva notes, is not simply the product of a single author, but of its relationship to other texts and to the structures of language itself. “[A]ny text,” she argues, “is constructed of a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another.”4 And this is what is happening in this exhibition – work, and images, which are a mosaic of quotations fighting over unity and fragmentation, reality and representation… and the construction of identity.

What this exhibition, and this materialisation, does not, and cannot answer, is the critical question: why do we dress up in the first place? What is the overriding reason for this ritualistic, performative enactment, this action, which happens time after time, day after day. And what is that face that we present to the camera during this performance? As Roland Barthes lucidly observes in Camera Lucida, “The PORTRAIT-PHOTOGRAPH is a closed field of forces. Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.”5

So, who I am?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3
  2. Foucault, Michel cited in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 01/04/2011 no longer available online
  3. Tseëlon, E. The Masque of Femininity: The Representation of Women in Everyday Life. London: Sage, 1995, pp. 128-130
  4. Kristeva, Julia. “Word, Dialog and Novel”, in Moi, Toril (ed.,). The Kristeva Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, p, 37 quoted in Keep, Christopher; McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. “Intertextuality,” on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 07/02/2020
  5. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida, London, 1984, p. 13

.
Many thankx to Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All installation photographs proceed in a clockwise order around the exhibition. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Dress and clothing are so much a part of the way people present themselves to the camera and this subject provides a strong theme through which to explore MGA’s extraordinary collection. Some photographs in the exhibition are well known, others have not previously been shown. All are equally compelling in showing the way photographers record and manipulate dress to tell their stories.

.
Gareth Syvret, MGA Associate Curator

 

As cultural hybrids, images are used as if they simultaneously block and unveil truth, reality, ways of seeing and understanding.

.
Ron Burnett. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, p. 237

 

The meanings of clothes may usefully be divided into two types, ‘denotation’ and ‘connotation’, each working in its own way on its own level. … Denotation is sometimes called a first order of signification or meaning. It is the literal meaning of a word or image… Connotation is sometimes called a second order of signification or meaning. It may be described as the things that the word to the image makes a person think or feel, or as the associations that a word or an image has for someone…

.
Barnard, Malcolm. Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge, 1996

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne with at left, Gordon Bennett’s Self-portrait (Nuance II) (1994) and at right, Deborah Paauwe’s Foreign body (2004)

 

Gordon Bennett. 'Self-portrait (Nuance II)' 1994

 

Gordon Bennett
Self-portrait (Nuance II)
1994
Gelatin silver prints
50.8 x 40.6 cm (each)
Photographer: Leanne Bennett
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1995
Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Bennett and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Gordon Bennett’s Self -portrait (nuance II) performance was staged for the camera rather than a live audience. The artist prepared for the performance by painting his face with polyvinyl acetate glue. The process of peeling away the pale skin, created by the dry glue, was then documented in a series of photographs. This work is a subtle critique of simplistic oppositions between people who have light skin and people who have dark skin. Bennett discovered that he was of Aboriginal descent when he was 11 years old, but he resisted identifying as an Indigenous Australian for another 20 years. Conceived as a self-portrait, this work alludes to Bennett’s own process of ‘coming out’ as an Aboriginal man; removing his white mask. But, rather than representing this process in terms of a simple opposition, the photographs emphasise the nuanced ambiguities and transitory nature of identity.

 

Deborah Paauwe. 'Foreign body' 2004

 

Deborah Paauwe
Foreign body
2004
From the series Chinese whispers
Chromogenic print
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2004
Courtesy of the artist, GAGPROJECTS Greenaway Art Gallery (Adelaide) and Michael Reid (Sydney)

 

 

Deborah Paauwe’s photographs are loaded and coded psychosexual puzzles. In this photograph Foreign body, who are the subjects and what is their relation? What is the nature of the embrace Paauwe concocts: eroticism or comfort? In their opposition as clothed and naked Paauwe’s models perform a drama, on desire, for the camera in which dress is figured as a method for revealing or concealing the body as the border between eye and flesh.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Eric Bridgeman’s Woman from settlement with boobs (2010) and at right, two photographs from Tracey Moffatt’s series Scarred for life

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Tracey Moffatt. 'Job hunt' 1976 1994

 

Tracey Moffatt
Job hunt
1976 1994
From the series Scarred for life
Off-set print
80.0 x 60.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1998
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery (Sydney)

 

 

Scarred for life is a series of works based on true stories about traumatic childhood experiences. In response to each story, Moffatt has staged and photographed a scene that illustrates the tragic tale. The photographs have been made to look like snapshots from a family album, emphasising the everyday nature of the incidents and their ongoing significance as memories. The photographs have been presented in a way that mimics the format of the 1960s American magazine, Life, which was well known for publishing photo-essays in this captioned format. Moffatt often draws on the story-telling conventions of magazines, cinema and other popular forms of visual communication in ways that give her photographs a heightened sense of drama. In Job hunt the tension between the fictive nature of Moffatt’s artistry and the ordinariness of the subject’s dress as a schoolboy dramatises the everyday. This effect is explored further in The Wizard of Oz where the awkwardness of Moffatt’s casting of a boy in a dress as Dorothy in her own fiction is heightened by his father’s overblown gesture.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Christian Thompson’s Gods and kings (2015) and at right, Damien Shen’s Ventral aspect of a male #1 and #2 (2014)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Gods and kings' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Gods and kings
2015
From the series Imperial relic
Chromogenic print
100.0 x 100.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2018
Courtesy of the artist and Michael Reid (Sydney + Berlin)

 

 

In this photograph by Christian Thompson the artist wears a makeshift hooded cape fashioned out of multiple maps of Australia charting different and conflicting Indigenous and colonial histories. The melding of these narratives through a careful but fragmented process of folding references the instrumentality of the map as a weapon of territoriality to challenge the idea of colonial power predicated on the designation of Australia as terra nullius. Describing his use of portraiture Thompson says, ‘I don’t think of them as being ‘myself’, because I think of my works as conceptual portraits. I’m really just the armature to layer ideas on top of … I really like the idea of wearing history, I like the idea of adorning myself in references to history.’ By wearing his cloak of maps, Thompson transfigures his body into a terrain where difficult histories are re-explored.

 

Damien Shen. 'Ventral aspect of a male #1' 2014

 

Damien Shen
Ventral aspect of a male #1
2014
From the series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II
Pigment ink-jet print
59.4 x 42.0 cm
Photographer: Richard Lyons
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the artists and MARS Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

This work is from Shen’s series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II (2014), which comprises 12 black-and-white photographs showing the artist and his uncle, a Ngarrindjeri elder known as Major Sumner. Across the series, the two subjects are shown from different angles, either together or individually. Their bodies have been painted in the traditional Ngarrindjeri way and they perform in front of the camera in a studio setting. While the majority of the images were taken in front of the studio backdrop, four of the images document Major Sumner ‘behind the scenes’.

This series is typical of Shen’s practice in that it explores his Indigenous identity and family history through portraiture. For Shen this series is extremely personal, as it documents his uncle sharing his cultural knowledge and experience with him. However, the series was also created to more broadly document Ngarrindjeri culture and the history of his ancestors. Furthermore, Shen’s use of a plain studio backdrop and sepia toning, along with his prosaic titles, directly reference 19th-century ethnographic portraiture, drawing attention to the history of the representation of Indigenous people. The candid backstage images are not sepia toned and have been juxtaposed with the staged portraits in a way that further highlights the artificiality of the studio setting.

 

Damien Shen. 'Ventral aspect of a male #2' 2014

 

Damien Shen
Ventral aspect of a male #2
2014
From the series On the fabric of the Ngarrindjeri body – volume II
Pigment ink-jet print
59.4 x 42.0 cm
Photographer: Richard Lyons
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the artists and MARS Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Jill Orr’s Lunch with the birds (1979) and at centre, Zoë Croggon’s Lucia (2018) and at centre right, Justene Williams Blue foto (2005)

 

Jill Orr. 'Lunch with the birds #3' 1979

 

Jill Orr
Lunch with the birds #3
1979
Ink-jet print, printed 2007
Photographer: Elizabeth Campbell
30.0 x 44.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2008
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Jill Orr’s Lunch with the birds performance took place on St Kilda beach on a wintery day in 1979. It was conceived as a shamanistic ritual that would provide an antidote to the junk food that is often thrown to scavenging seagulls. Dressed in her mother’s wedding gown, Orr lay on the beach surrounded by a meal of whole bread, fresh fish and pure grain, and waited for the birds to come and commune with her on the foreshore. Apart from the photographer Elizabeth Campbell, who had been commissioned to document the event, there was no human audience on the beach. Like other performances that Orr has enacted in the landscape, nature itself is the primary audience for this ritual. All the same, Orr is quite conscious of using photography to share the performance with gallery audiences. Working with the photographic documentation after the event, Orr composed the images as a narrative sequence (from which these works are taken) and presented them on black mount boards to suggest a filmstrip.

 

Zoë Croggon. 'Lucia' 2018

 

Zoë Croggon
Lucia
2018
From the series Luce Rossa
Pigment ink-jet print
65.0 x 79.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Daine Singer Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Zoë Croggon uses collage techniques to explore spatial relationships between the human form, architecture and the physical world. Her practice is informed by her experience of studying ballet and dance. In many of Croggon’s works, found photographs of the human body are cut out and re-placed, in tension, against surface and structure to explore the politics and poetics of space. For the series Lucia Rossa, the source materials are derived from Italian pornography, eroctica and fashion magazines. Although it is not overtly depicted, this work responds to the ways that the female body is ‘arranged, fragmented and presented for consumption…’ As such, ‘Lucia’ considers the condition of fabric, clothing and dress as a space for the body, laden with the politics of sexuality.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Justene Williams Blue foto (2005) and at right, Christine Godden’s photographs

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Christine Godden’s photographic work is a highly personal and poetic form of documentary practice, which is informed by a feminist interest in developing distinctly female perspectives on the world. Godden’s familiarity with the tradition of fine art photography in North America is evident in her commitment to high quality printing, which accentuates the sensuality of her subject matter. This photograph is from a body of Untitled works that was originally exhibited in 1976 at George Paton Gallery, Melbourne and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. This tightly organised sequence of 44 photographs intended to show ‘how women see [and] how women think.’ The photographs present fragments or tightly cropped glimpses of textures and bodies (usually of women) that, with their combination of tenderness and formal rigour, take the appearance of being ‘female,’ while at the same time unpicking or unhinging the logic of a feminine imagery or style.

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

Christine Godden. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Christine Godden
Untitled
1976
Gelatin silver print
15.3 x 22.8 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with the assistance of The Robert Salzer Foundation 2015
Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Christine Godden’s photographs; at middle left David Rosetzky’s photographs; and at far right Sharon Danzig’s No escape (2004)

 

David Rosetzky. 'Hamish' 2004

 

David Rosetzky
Hamish
2004
Chromogenic prints
50.0 x 61.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2005
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

This work by David Rosetzky is an early examples of cut-out and collaged photographic portraits that he has been producing periodically since 2004. To create these images, Rosetzky produces slick studio portraits of young models, referencing the style of photography prevalent in advertising and fashion magazines. He then layers a number of portraits on top of each other before hand-cutting sections to reveal parts of the underlying prints. Through this method of image making he seeks to represent the identity of his subjects as multi-layered, shifting and often concealed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Sharon Danzig’s No escape (2004) and at right, the work of Pat Brassington

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing work from Elizabeth Gertsakis’ series Innocent reading for origin (1987)

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis. 'Innocent reading for origin' 1987

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis
Innocent reading for origin
1987
Gelatin silver prints
74.0 x 48.5 cm (each)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1994
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

For the series Innocent reading for origin, Elizabeth Gertsakis uses photographs of her family taken at the time of their migration to Australia from Florina, Greece, her birthplace, when she was an infant. These photographs are presented with typescripts of her readings and observations about the photographs. As viewers we are witness to how the images form the artist’s words and, placed alongside them, how her words form the images. The dress of the people in the photographs is particularly significant for their interpretation and description and the ways that these images operate on the artist and the viewer. Gertsakis is concerned here with how photographs transmit memory and meaning in private and public. By shifting the format and scale of family photographs from shoebox to gallery wall, Gertsakis calls into question the status of the medium as vernacular and/or fine art.

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis. 'Innocent reading for origin' 1987

 

Elizabeth Gertsakis
Innocent reading for origin
1987
Gelatin silver prints
74.0 x 48.5 cm (each)
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1994
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

As necessity or luxury, to integrate or rebel, in freedom or oppression, dress is the nexus of selfhood. Photography and dress are forever entwined; from its inception in the 1840s one of photography’s main objectives has been the making of portraits. Clothing has been imaged by photographers ever since. In documentary mode, photography provides a record of the ways we dress and how clothing has changed over time. As an instrument of empire photography was used for the purpose of recording the dress and appearance of Indigenous people. Since the early twentieth century the practice of fashion photographers has posed body and garment to create brands and promote lifestyle choices to sell us the clothes we wear.

This exhibition draws together photographs from the MGA collection that feature dress or clothing as a significant element in their making. Some of the photographers included have produced works with documentary intent. For many, a classification of their practice is not so clear cut. These artists photograph dress, clothing and the body to actively question appearances. They use photography as a tactic for testing the nature of consumer culture, challenging social norms or protesting histories of colonisation and discrimination. Shaping and shaped by the individual, our clothes can conceal, reveal and transform who we are. Like the photographs in this exhibition they are the bearers of memory, emotion and time.

Text from the Monash Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 22/12/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Polly Borland from her Bunny series (2004-05)

 

Polly Borland. 'Untitled XXIII' 2004-05

 

Polly Borland
Untitled XXIII
2004-05
From the series Bunny
Chromogenic print, printed 2008
25.3 x 17.1 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2008
Courtesy of the artist and Murray White Room (Melbourne)

 

 

This photograph is from Polly Borland’s Bunny series, which consists of more than 50 images. Borland worked over an extended period of time in close collaboration with actress Gwendoline Christie as the subject of the photographs. The Bunny series plays upon the physicality of its model – who is extraordinarily tall – rendering tense, awkward and absurd poses. The surreal character of Bunny created through gestures of masking and dressing up acts as a darkly playful riposte to the objectification of the Playboy centrefold. Through a process of costuming explored between photographer and subject these images lampoon the fetishism of the glamour shot, supplanting it with their own fantasies both revealed and concealed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left the work of Alfred Gregory, at centre the work of Jack Cato (1930s-1940s), and at right Lyndal Walker’s Lachlan sprucing by the hearth (2013) from the series Modern romance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing the work of Jeff Carter at left: Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach (1960) and Clan gathering, Wangaratta (1955); and at right, Rennie Ellis’ Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG (1974)

 

Jeff Carter. 'Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach' 1960

 

Jeff Carter
Saturday arvo, Cronulla Beach
1960
Gelatin silver print
26.8 x 38.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1992
Courtesy of the artist

 

Jeff Carter. 'Clan gathering, Wangaratta' 1955

 

Jeff Carter
Clan gathering, Wangaratta
1955
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 31.9 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1992
Courtesy of the artist

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG' 1974

 

Rennie Ellis
Richmond fans, Grand Final, MCG
1974
Chromogenic print
26.7 x 40.7 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2007
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

 

This is one of the most famous photographs of the most important date in the Australian football calendar: Grand Final Day. Ellis turned his lens off the field onto the fans of the winning side on 28 September 1974, the Richmond Tigers. Ellis’s photograph encapsulates the centrality of clothing and colour to the tribalism of football fandom – in particular among ‘cheer squads’ – some of it official merchandise, some adapted or homemade. The image brilliantly exemplifies the unique ability of still photography to render human physicality and a moment in time.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Derek O’Connor’s Untitled (1981-84) and at right, four Rennie Ellis photographs (see below).

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Confrontation, Gay Pride Week Picnic, Botanical Gardens' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis
Confrontation, Gay Pride Picnic, Botanic Gardens
1973
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Drag queens and security guard' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis
Drag queens and security guard
1973
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
30.0 x 44.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2016
Courtesy of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive (Melbourne)

 

 

In 1973 the Australian Gay Liberation movement instigated a series of Gay Pride festivals in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. This was a time when homosexual sex was classified as a criminal act across Australia, and the Gay Pride events sought to challenge these repressive laws and openly celebrate gay and lesbian culture in public spaces.

Rennie Ellis, one of the most prolific photojournalists of Australian society during the 1970s and 1980s, documented Melbourne’s Gay Pride Week with his characteristic warmth and candour. Commissioned to photograph the event for the National Review, Ellis captured everything from transgressive cross-dressers and camped up political banners to same-sex couples enjoying romantic interludes on the lawns of the Botanic Gardens.

Ellis made the only substantial visual record of Melbourne’s first gay and lesbian festival. These photographs show the importance of dress as a method for open expression of gay and queer identities. Since the making of these photographs, significant progress has been made on this issue, most notably with the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill, 2017 providing equal rights to same sex couples. Continued work and education towards the eradication of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, however, remains imperative.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dressing Up' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dressing Up at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne showing at left, Derek O’Connor’s Untitled (1981-84) and at right, two photographs by Wesley Stacey, both Untitled (1973) from the series Friends

 

Derek O'Connor. 'Untitled' 1981-84

 

Derek O’Connor
Untitled
1981-84
From the series Amata
Image 2 of a series of 4
Gelatin silver print
50.8 x 61.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2007
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Derek O’Connor took this series of photographs in the early 1980s while he was living at Amata, an Aboriginal community situated in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara / Yankunyjatjara Lands in the far northwest of South Australia. They show a group of Aboriginal youths congregating around a campfire on the outskirts of the township, casually incorporating various elements of capitalist culture into their own communal space: second-hand ’70s clothing, a portable cassette player, a tin can with a Hans Heysen label, and petrol.

Photographs of this sort, which represent Aboriginal people as fringe-dwellers on the margins of White Australia, date back to the nineteenth century. Early examples of this genre typically cast Aboriginal people as a dying race, whose way of life was rapidly being undermined by the colonial regime. In O’Connor’s photographs, however, the Aboriginal youths personify a sense of persistent vitality, in spite of their circumstances. As O’Connor explains, ‘there is no self-pity or passive resignation in the way they face the camera. Their quiet defiance has a palpable sense of integrity.’

 

 

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16
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: Tuesday 22nd July – Saturday 26th July, 2014

Opening: Tuesday 22nd July 6-8pm

Nite Art: Wednesday 23rd July until 11pm
Artists represented: Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes, Rennie Ellis

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson
Catalogue essay by Professor Dennis Altman (below)

 

 

Barbara Creed. 'Julian Desaily and Peter McEwan in the back of a VW Combi van, Melbourne' Melbourne, c. 1971-73

 

Barbara Creed (Australian, b. 1943)
Julian Desaily and Peter McEwan in the back of a VW Combi van, Melbourne
Melbourne, c. 1971-73
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Barbara Creed

 

 

Five days, that’s all you’ve got! Just five days to see this fabulous exhibition. COME ALONG TO THE OPENING (Tuesday 22nd July 6-8pm) or NITE ART, the following night!

The exhibition Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73 pictures the very beginning of the gay liberation movement in Australia through the work of Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes and Rennie Ellis. The exhibition examines for the first time images from the period as works of art as much as social documents. The title of the exhibition is a slogan from the period.

As gay people found their voice in the early 1970s artists, often at the very beginning of their careers, were there to capture meetings in lounge rooms, consciousness raising groups and street protests. The liberation movement meant ‘being there’, putting your body on the line. “It was a key feature of the new left that this embodied politics couldn’t stop in the streets: that is, the public arena as conventionally understood. ‘Being there’ politically also applied to households, classrooms, sexual relations, workplaces and the natural environment.”1

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson and with a catalogue essay by Professor Dennis Altman (see below), the show is a stimulating experience for those who want to be inspired by the history and art of the early gay liberation movement in Australia.

The exhibition coincides with AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference (20-25 July 2014) and Nite Art which occurs on the Wednesday night (23rd July 2014). The exhibition will travel to Sydney to coincide with the 14th Australia’s Homosexual Histories Conference in November at a venue yet to be confirmed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Connell, Raewyn. “Ours is in colour: the new left of the 1960s,” in Carolyn D’Cruz and Mark Pendleton (eds.,). After Homosexual: The Legacies of Gay Liberation. Perth: UWA Publishing, 2013, p. 43.

.
Many thankx to all the artists for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Gay Liberation march, Russell Street, Melbourne' Melbourne, 1973

 

Ponch Hawkes (Australian, b. 1946)
Gay Liberation march, Russell Street, Melbourne
Melbourne, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Ponch Hawkes

 

John-Englart-Gay-Pride-Week-Sydney-1973-c

 

John Englart (Australian, b. 1955)
Gay Pride Week poster, outside the Town Hall Hotel, Sydney Town Hall
Sydney, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© John Englart

 

 

Out of the closets, onto the streets

Professor Dennis Altman

.
This exhibition chronicles a very specific time in several Australian cities, the period when lesbians and gay men first started demonstrating publicly in a demand to be accorded the basic rights of recognition and citizenship. Forty years ago to be homosexual was almost invariably to lead a double life; the great achievement of gay liberation was that a generation – although only a tiny proportion of us were ever Gay Liberationists – discovered that was no longer necessary.

The Archives have collected an extraordinary range of materials illustrating the richness of earlier lesbian and gay life in Australia, but this does not deny the reality that most people regarded homosexuality as an illness, a perversion, or a sin, and one for which people should be either punished or cured. It is revealing to read the first avowedly gay Australian novel, Neville Jackson’s No End to the Way [published in 1965 – in Britain – and under a pseudonym] to be reminded of how much has changed in the past half century.

Gay Liberation had both local and imported roots; the Stonewall riots in New York City, which sparked off a new phase of radical gay politics – when ‘gay’ was a term understood to embrace women, men and possibly transgender – took place in June 1969. They were barely noticed at the time in Australia, where a few people in the civil liberties world, most of them not homosexual, had started discussing the need to repeal anti-sodomy laws.

Small law reform and lesbian groups had already existed, but the real foundation of an Australian gay movement came in September 1970 when Christabel Pol and John Ware announced publicly the formation of CAMP, an acronym that stood for the Campaign Against Moral Persecution but also picked up on the most used Australian term for ‘homosexual’. Within two years there were both CAMP branches in most Australian capital cities, as well as small gay liberation groups that organised most of the demonstrations illustrated in this exhibition.

The differences between gay liberation and CAMP were in practice small, but those of us in Gay Liberation prided ourselves on our radical critique, and our commitment to radical social change. CAMP, with its rather daggy social events and its stress on law reform – at a time in history when homosexual conduct between men was illegal across the country – seemed to us too bourgeois, though ironically it was CAMP which organised the first open gay political protest in Australia [immediately identified by the balloons in the Exhibition photos].

It is now a cliché to say “the sixties” came to Australia in the early 1970s, but a number of forces came together in the few years between the federal election of 1969, when Gough Whitlam positioned the Labor Party as a serious contender for power, and 1972, the “It’s Time” election, when the ALP took office for the first time in 23 years. We cannot understand how a gay movement developed in Australia without understanding the larger social and cultural changes of the time, which saw fundamental shifts in the nature of Australian society and politics.

The decision of the Menzies government in 1965 to commit Australian troops to the long, and ultimately futile war in Vietnam, led to the emergence of a large anti-war movement, capable of mobilising several hundred thousand people to demonstrate by the end of the decade. Already under the last few years of Liberal government the traditional White Australia Policy was beginning to crumble, as it became increasingly indefensible, and awareness of the brutal realities of dispossession and discrimination against indigenous Australians was developing. Perhaps most significant for a movement based on sexuality, the second wave feminist movement, already active in the United States and Britain, began challenging the deeply entrenched sexist structures of society.

To quote myself, this at least reduces charges of plagiarism: “Anyone over fifty in Australia has lived through extraordinary changes in how we imagine the basic rules of sex and gender. We remember the first time we saw women bank tellers, heard a woman’s voice announce that she was our pilot for a flight, watched the first woman read the news on television. Women are now a majority of the paid workforce; in 1966 they made up twenty-nine per cent. When I was growing up in Hobart it was vaguely shocking to hear of an unmarried heterosexual couple living together and women in hats and gloves rode in the back of the trams (now long since disappeared). As I look back, it seems to me that some of the unmarried female teachers at my school were almost certainly lesbians, although even they would have been shocked had the word been uttered.”

In Australia Germaine Greer’s book The Female Eunuch became a major best seller, and Germaine appeared [together with Liz Fell, Gillian Leahy and myself] at the initial Gay Liberation forum at Sydney University in early 1972; looking back it is ironic that a woman who has been somewhat ambivalent in her attitudes to homosexuality was part of the public establishment of the gay movement.

But the early demonstrations illustrated in this exhibition did often include sympathetic “straights” – a term that seems to have disappeared from the language – for whom gay liberation was part of a wider set of cultural issues. It is essential to recognise that while political demonstrations may seem to assert certain claims they play widely different roles for those who participate. For some of us a public protest is a form of “coming out”; indeed many people had never been public about their sexuality before they attended their first demonstration. For others a demonstration is primarily a place to find solidarity, friendship, and, if lucky, sex.

For the gay movement more than any other just to declare oneself as gay was to take an enormous step, a step that some found remarkably easy while others had to wait until late in life to discover that actually almost everyone knew anyway. I remember the now dead Sydney playwright, Nick Enright, who was one of the first people to be open about his homosexuality, and was so without any sense of difficulty; at the same time there are still people who go to great lengths to hide their sexuality even while acknowledging they would face little risk of discrimination were they not to do so

Maybe there is a parallel for people who now declare their lost Aboriginal heritage, unsure how they will be regarded but aware that this is crucial to their sense of self. Every generation has its own version of coming out stories, this exhibition hones in on that time in our national history when everything seemed in flux, and gay liberation seemed a small part of creating a brave new world in which old hierarchies and restraints would disappear.

Looking back at the photos creates a certain nostalgia – we all look so young, so sure that we were changing the world, though in reality most of us were putting on a brave front. The oddest thing is that in some ways we did change the world. Forty years ago we looked at the police as threatening, symbolised in the photograph from Melbourne Gay Pride 1973 where the policeman is clearly telling people to move on. Today openly lesbian and gay cops march with us in the streets, and the very idea that homosexuality could be criminalised, as it still is in many parts of the world, has largely disappeared from historical memory. Indeed to many people attending this exhibition that may be the first time they confront the reality that being gay in Australia in the early 1970s was to live in a world of silence, evasion and fear.

.
Professor Dennis Altman
July 2014

© Dennis Altman
Reproduced with permission

 

Anonymous. 'I am a Lesbian, Gay Pride Week' Adelaide, 1973

 

Anonymous
I am a Lesbian, Gay Pride Week
Adelaide, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

Anonymous. 'Man in black hat and red shirt, Gay Pride Week' Adelaide, 1973

 

Anonymous
Man in black hat and red shirt, Gay Pride Week
Adelaide, 1973
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

 

Sponsored by

CPL Digital logo.
For photographic services in Australia, Art Blart highly recommends CPL Digital (03) 8376 8376 cpldigital.com.au
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Dr Marcus Bunyan and the best photography archive sponsor this event artblart.com
Australian Queer Archives.
The Archives actively collects and preserves lesbian and gay material from across Australia queerarchives.org.au/

 

Supported by

Edmund Peace logo.
EP is a contemporary Melbourne art space dedicated to the appreciation of photography. This gallery has now closed.
Rennie Ellis logo.
Rennie Ellis is an award winning photographer and writer (03) 9525 3862 www.rennieellis.com.au

 

 

AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference
20 July – 25 July 2014
Melbourne, Australia

Edmund Pearce Gallery

This gallery has now closed.

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14
Mar
14

Exhibition preview: ‘Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: Tuesday 22nd July – Saturday 26th July, 2014

Opening: Tuesday 22nd July 6-8pm
Nite Art: Wednesday 23rd July until 11pm
Artists represented: Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes, Rennie Ellis

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson

 

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Confrontation, Gay Pride Week Picnic, Botanical Gardens 1973' 1973, printed later

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Confrontation, Gay Pride Week Picnic, Botanical Gardens 1973
1973, printed 2014
Silver gelatin photograph
© Rennie Ellis

 

 

Five days, that’s all you’ve got! Just five days to see this fabulous exhibition, so make a note of it now in your diaries…

The exhibition Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73 pictures the very beginning of the gay liberation movement in Australia through the work of Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes and Rennie Ellis. The exhibition examines for the first time images from the period as works of art as much as social documents. The title of the exhibition is a slogan from the period.

As gay people found their voice in the early 1970s artists, often at the very beginning of their careers, were there to capture meetings in lounge rooms, consciousness raising groups and street protests. The liberation movement meant ‘being there’, putting your body on the line. “It was a key feature of the new left that this embodied politics couldn’t stop in the streets: that is, the public arena as conventionally understood. ‘Being there’ politically also applied to households, classrooms, sexual relations, workplaces and the natural environment.”1

Curated by Dr Marcus Bunyan and Nicholas Henderson and with a catalogue essay by Professor Dennis Altman, the show is a stimulating experience for those who want to be inspired by the history and art of the early gay liberation movement in Australia.

The exhibition coincides with AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference (20-25 July 2014) and Nite Art which occurs on the Wednesday night (23rd July 2014). The exhibition will travel to Sydney to coincide with the 14th Australia’s Homosexual Histories Conference in November at a venue yet to be confirmed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Connell, Raewyn. “Ours is in colour: the new left of the 1960s,” in Carolyn D’Cruz and Mark Pendleton (eds.,). After Homosexual: The Legacies of Gay Liberation. Perth: UWA Publishing, 2013, p. 43.

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Many thankx to all the artists for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Phillip Potter. 'Queens' 1971

 

Phillip Potter
Queens
1971, printed 2014
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Phillip Potter

 

 

From a series of photographs of the very first gay rights demonstration which attracts 70 people outside NSW Liberal Party headquarters in support of the pre-selection of Tom Hughes against a right wing challenge following his support for homosexual law reform.

 

Unknown artist. 'Cricket is homosexual' Melbourne, c. 1971 - 1973

 

Unknown artist
Cricket is homosexual!
Melbourne, c. 1971-1973, printed 2014
Giclee print on Hahnemuhle william turner 310gsm
© Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

Barbara Creed. 'Stills from a Super 8mm film of a Women’s Liberation march' Melbourne, 1973

 

Barbara Creed (Australian, b. 1943)
Stills from a Super 8mm film of a Women’s Liberation march
Melbourne, 1973, printed 2014
Still from a Super 8mm film
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Barbara Creed

 

 

Still from a super 8mm movie of a Women’s Liberation march, Melbourne, 1973.

 

Barbara Creed. 'Stills from a Super 8mm film of a Women’s Liberation march' Melbourne, 1973

 

Barbara Creed (Australian, b. 1943)
Stills from a Super 8mm film of a Women’s Liberation march
Melbourne, 1973, printed 2014
Still from a Super 8mm film
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Barbara Creed

 

 

Still from a super 8mm movie of a Women’s Liberation march, Melbourne, 1973.

 

John Storey. 'I am a Lesbian and Beautiful' 1971, printed 2014

 

John Storey
I am a Lesbian and Beautiful
1971, printed 2014
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© John Storey

 

 

From a series of photographs of the very first gay rights demonstration which attracts 70 people outside NSW Liberal Party headquarters in support of the pre-selection of Tom Hughes against a right wing challenge following his support for homosexual law reform.

 

Phillip Potter. 'Policeman reading 'Camp Ink' magazine' 1971

 

Phillip Potter
Policeman reading ‘Camp Ink’ magazine
1971, printed 2014
Digital C type print on Kodak Endura Matte
© Phillip Potter

 

 

From a series of photographs of the very first gay rights demonstration which attracts 70 people outside NSW Liberal Party headquarters in support of the pre-selection of Tom Hughes against a right wing challenge following his support for homosexual law reform.

 

 

Sponsored by

CPL Digital logo.
For photographic services in Australia, Art Blart highly recommends CPL Digital (03) 8376 8376 cpldigital.com.au
Art Blart logo.
Dr Marcus Bunyan and the best cultural archive in Australia sponsor this event artblart.com
ALGA logo.
The Archives actively collects and preserves lesbian and gay material from across Australia alga.org.au

 

Supported by

Edmund Peace logo.
EP is a contemporary Melbourne art space dedicated to the appreciation of photography (03) 9023 5775 edmundpearce.com.au
Rennie Ellis logo.
Rennie Ellis is an award winning photographer and writer (03) 9525 3862 www.rennieellis.com.au

 

 

AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference
20 July – 25 July 2014
Melbourne, Australia

Edmund Pearce Gallery

This gallery has now closed.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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