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William Yang: My Generation (2013)

For 20 years Sydney photographer William Yang, a canny and candid chronicler of his life and times, has been bringing added life to his pictures in a series of affecting slideshow ... See full synopsis »


Martin Fox


William Yang


William Yang


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For 20 years Sydney photographer William Yang, a canny and candid chronicler of his life and times, has been bringing added life to his pictures in a series of affecting slideshow performances. This show from 2010, now filmed by Martin Fox, takes us back to wild days amongst the Sydney bohemia of the 70s and 80s, an era of riotous liberation stopped in its tracks by AIDS.

This documentary of the slide show is focussed on Australian arts figures such as author Patrick White, artists Brett Whiteley and Martin Sharp, theatre and fashion figures such as Little Nell, Tiny Tim, Margaret Fink, Jenny Kee and Peter Tully.

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A champagne glass in one hand and a camera in the other
27 July 2013 | by conannzSee all my reviews

Just imagine you got to go to all the smart parties and events in Sydney between 1970 and about 1990 with a camera in one hand a glass of champagne in the other. William Yang did just that. First for fun and then as a paid photographer for various magazines and media.

Yang had moved to Sydney in 1966 and ended up sharing a house with various theatre directors and writers and started taking photos of these friends. They turned out to be directors like Jimmy Sharman and others from NIDA. Later he was introduced to many other writers, directors, artists and fashion people who are the subjects for this documentary.

This film starts from the theatre days and moves through the 80's when he started making slide-shows out of his vast archive. These became theatre performances usually with a subtitle like monologue with slides.

This film "My Generation" documentary is essentially an adapted slide-show using a green screen at times so it is like William is standing there in front of the slides once again.

The difficulty of finding a narrative inside the many hundreds / thousands of photos that he took of these people was provided in part by in essence "zooming in" on a few of them.

The most well known people would be Nobel prize winning author Patrick White and painter Brett Whiteley who both died in 1990 and 1992 respectively. In a sense - their stories bookend the film and those of Jenny Kee, Martin Sharp and others like Jim Sharman intersect at various times to provide the links.

Making sense of a huge photo archive was made easier by his earlier series of slide-shows but at times it felt a bit like watching someone's home movie.

As someone who lived in Sydney during part of that time I was familiar with a few of the people who featured but I wonder how many viewers outside of Sydney will find this interesting.

I saw this at the Auckland International Film Festival where the producer noted in answer to some questions about the topics that there are 2 more films in production. One of those focuses more directly on gay Sydney and some of that history is in this film but not as much as some audience members expected.

On the whole I like the idea that everyone is in a movie of their own life and while most of us don't document to the extent that a photographer does; this is an interesting exploration of 1970s-1990's Sydney.

One other anecdote from William caught my attention. Obviously there were lots of drugs in an around many of these parties and events. To the extent that Yang was taking photos that gave him a level of abstraction that protected him from some of the excesses. I have heard this before from other photographers and it is this sense of "fly on the wall" ever present documentary photography that makes this film worth watching.

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Release Date:

8 June 2013 (Australia) See more »

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Felix Media See more »
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