Sydney Festival: I am a Camera

19 January 2012

William Yang shares his life with the audience in 'I am a Camera'.
William Yang shares his life with the audience in 'I am a Camera'.

There is more than a little of the slide-night in William Yang's Sydney Festival performance I Am A Camera.

"This is my sister Francis when she came to visit. This is my boyfriend Scott. Here is the sushi we had for lunch. Here we are holidaying in Queensland."

Yang talks about his travels, his friends, his family, there are photos of nature, food and impressive architecture. There are shared intimacies about family dynamics and the death of people close to him.

But this is a slide-night with a difference. The photographer has a professional eye, the accompanying monologue is a crafted piece of theatre, there is live music, on cello and percussion, composed for the performance. You also can't ask questions or take a tea break.

Yang describes himself as a "blogger before the word was invented". For 22 years, in 11 monologue shows, he has shared images and observations from his life.

Themes from those pieces also emerge in this one such as family, death, Chinese identity and the Chinese experience in Australia.

The title of this show is from a Christopher Isherwood novel and reads "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking... Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed."

Whether or not Yang is, as the quote suggests, passively recording when he takes his photos, by the time he presents them in the theatre they have been consciously considered and ordered according to his themes.

Yang has said that Facebook has influenced him to show the images in his shows more quickly, without lingering on shots. The audience is, nevertheless, given the space and time to contemplate.

A strand of the show is Yang joining a Chinese Heritage Association excursion to the town of Young. The trip is partly to commemorate the brutal ousting of 1200 Chinese goldminers from Lamming Flat, formerly Young, in 1861.

During the visit the travellers joined locals in an offering ceremony to dead Chinese from the area. Yang says how much he likes the images of a traditional ceremony, with paper money and clothes being burnt and a shrine of food and incense, taking place in the Australian bush.

He mentions that, true to the Chinese spirit, the chicken and pork offerings are not wasted but become part of a feast of party pies, dim sims and pavlova.

In all of this there is sadness, humour, affection and the living coming to terms with their past and the dead.

Yang reflects on his material and his life and, by doing so, invites us to do the same.

I Am a Camera is being performed, with live music by Elena Kats-Chernin, in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre until 22 January.

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