William Yang gets photographed. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

Last weekend, I went to the Sydney Biennale again, with Engogirl to meet up with our friend Mai Long and her boyfriend Stuart. Even though I’d been to the biennale exhibits on Cockatoo Island before and hadn’t thought much of them, I figured it might be more interesting in the company of Mai.

Mai is an artist and she had a list of works that her artist friends said she must see. Needless to say, I found the exhibits far more interesting this time round. I’m not sure if it was Mai’s choices or that I’m so suggestible to being led.

Memo to self: Don’t ever volunteer at a hypnotism show.

In the afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting up with Mai’s mentor, the talented photographer and artist, William Yang. Mai had said to William earlier over the phone, that I was keen to photograph him and at first he said yes.

William Yang is very famous here in Australia as a photographer of the Sydney artist scene for the last 40 years and there is hardly anyone of creative note he hasn’t met or photographed. I thought it would be great to get a shot of William the chronicler who is usually the one who is photographing other people.

When I finally met William and asked if I could take his photo he said he’d changed his mind and didn’t feel comfortable about it.

At first I was taken aback, but then I said to him, “it was going to be very confrontational and I was going to get right up in your face like this” and I got within about 30 cm (about a foot)  with my 10mm lens, and quickly snapped a shot.

William, a bit surprised, said, “oh, that wasn’t so bad! Some people stuff around for ages”. So I then I showed him the shot and he nodded and smiled. I then went on to explain how I wanted to get a shot of him the unobtrusive photographer responding to me taking his photo in such an obvious way.

Later on we all went for a bit of a drinking session and I got to spend some time with William and his friend Glen. It’s no wonder William Yang has captured so many private moments of other people’s lives. He’s a quiet person who carefully chooses his words but also seems to enjoy noisy company. I’m sure there have been plenty of occasions where people have totally let down their guard with William.

10 thoughts on “William Yang gets photographed. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010”

  1. Welcome back, razzbuffnik! You’ve said a lot about Mr, Yang in just a few words — the quiet carefully-spoken observer who enjoys noisy company. And the portrait (more than just a picture) has the same economy. Wonderful! Sounds like a great opportunity to share a little time with an interesting person.

  2. I would like photographs of me like that! Very cool!

    Well done.

    note: I bet people are regularly really disappointed meeting authors/photographers/writers/musicians/artists in general … because their work is like a noticeable parachute carrying a little individual swinging underneath.

  3. Donald

    Thanks. Glad you liked the shot as I think it really shows some of Mr Yang’s character.

    Anonymous (is that you Ross?)

    Thanks and if I ever meet you (I go to Japan every now and again) I’ll try to do my best to capture your image in a way that shows a little more than just your appearance.

  4. Ok. I winced when I saw this. Let’s rumble a bit here, OK? You say he’s an unobtrusive man and yet here he looks like he has a dwarf body with one spectacular looking and giant sized head. I guess a 10mm meant to be used as “confrontational” has been put to good use here but the fact that he said he did not want his photograph taken and you tricked him sorta creeps me out. Aren’t you the one who gave me etiquette lessons in how to approach folks? Don’t do this to me if I ever cross the ocean. I’ve already got a spectacular large sized head with a 50mm.

  5. Pat

    I guess it depends on the way how you look at it.

    When I met William I could instantly sense he that he was a no kind of fuss sort of guy and I knew that “having your photo taken” by a stranger can be uncomfortable. I was towering over William and I knew it probably felt a bit confrontational for him so I thought I’d make fun of the situation, acknowledging how weird the whole process is. As I said in the post William seemed more concerned about how time consuming and awkward it would all feel if it had been a protracted affair with him having to pose.

    Perhaps I instinctually picked up on the vibe and knew I had to be quick and painless.

    As for the photo, I think it shows a man who is still a sensitive and vulnerable little boy. I try to make my portraits about character rather than flattery. I’m more into trying to get people into displaying who they are, rather than what they look like from their best angle.

    As I’ve mentioned before, engaging people (in whatever way) whilst photographing them changes the photo, as the photographer becomes part of the shot by affecting the subject by the form of the engagement. I call it “gonzo photography” (after Hunter S Thompson’s “gonzo journalism”, where he was as much a part of the story as his subjects).

    Photos like the one above not only show Mr Yang, they also show his response to a situation. Personally I find William’s countenance very interesting and I’m quite amazed at how much it shows.

    Did you go to his website?

  6. You are right. Any situation depends on the way you look at it. And, particularly, portraits. I’m just telling you that knowing nothing about this man or his work (I did not go to his website), and based solely on reading your post, I thought this portrait appeared to be more about the photographer than his subject.

    And, I’m not talking the “flattery” issue at all. (With my Razz portrait, trust me, I’d be saying either you make it flattering or don’t take it!!)_ In fact, his face is very handsome. It is the whole image that first and foremost forces the viewer to look at him as distorted, misshapen way. You are forced to attach this very inteesting head and face to the rest of him. If this distortion was a quality you saw in him I didn’t see it mentioned in the blog post but perhaps you left things out.

    Having said that, who cares what I think really about this portrait? It is subjective. He may love it. I think what truly bothers me about this is the context you put it in. Going with friends to a museum exhibit and he, a rather well known guy in Australia, is not working but just a friend of your mutual friend. He indicates he doesn’t want his photograph taken (this probably happens a lot that folks want to do this I’m presuming) and you disregard his wishes. You have enough charm and wit and “noise” to have convinced him to agree to “one” shot of that I feel sure.

  7. I’m not sure if this “confrontational” photograph is in line or in opposition to the “try walking in my shoes” bit but I like the shot.

  8. Grasswire

    I didn’t take the shot with the video in mind but I find that such intimate photos do encourage thinking about the subject’s mind set and character.

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