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In his ‘About my mother’ portfolio, William Yang has assembled a suite of photographs of his mother Emma. Some are his own, while others have been re-photographed from images found and collected from family albums over the years. Yang described his process of collecting the photographs as ‘partly being a researcher, like a historian in some way.’1
Yang began the ‘About my mother’ series following his mother’s death. The handwritten, reflective text, similar to a spoken narrative, includes the artist’s memories, conversations and anecdotes. The text in Mother driving car. Cairns 1930’s 2003 refers to his mother’s sister Bessie, whom she was close to and assisted during ill health.
Through the text and images, Yang gives us a sense of Emma as a strong and proud woman, but we also experience the artist’s struggle to find, in a photograph, his mother’s true essence.
William Yang is a third-generation Chinese Australian whose grandparents migrated to Australia during the 1880s gold rush. He grew up at Dimbulah on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland and describes his upbringing as one in which his Chinese ethnicity was suppressed and denied.
Yang studied architecture at the University of Queensland, and in 1969 he moved to Sydney to become a playwright. He took up social photography as a way of making money and soon gained entry into the city’s theatrical and artistic circles. His photography during the 1980s and early 1990s documents the social and artistic life of Sydney.
In 1983, Yang met Yentsoon Tsai, a Chinese teacher from Taiwan. Their friendship led Yang on a quest to discover his Chinese culture and heritage. He changed his name from the anglicised ‘Young’ to ‘Yang’, and he began researching his family history.