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Fear of AIDS

printed 1998


William Yang


1943 -


William Yang considers himself ‘a documentarian, a diarist mainly, as it is my own personal stories that my work comes out of, from my own life’.1 His ‘stories’ synthesise his experiences and tell of his identity, his childhood and family history, friendships, the impact of AIDS and death. Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He moved to Sydney in the late 1960s and commenced work as a freelance photographer in 1974, taking social photographs and documenting the then less visible gay community in Sydney. In the process he assembled a remarkable archive from the 1970s and 1980s. His first solo exhibition in 1977 presented a frank depiction of the Sydney party scene. Since 1989 he has developed a series of monologues with slide projections which draw on his collections of photographs and experiences and have become the focus of his work. These include ‘Sadness’, ‘Blood links’ and ‘The North’ which have toured extensively. Of his practice, Yang has observed: ‘I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people.’2

‘Fear of AIDS’ is from a body of work which was exhibited under the title ‘Friends of Dorothy’; the title of the fifth in his series of performances, a personalised social history of the gay community in Sydney. In interviews Yang has remarked on how in his work he tries to approach things as honestly as he can and how that process can lead to a peeling back of social attitudes. ‘Fear of AIDS’ takes as its subject sex and male desire. Characteristically, he presents a straightforward point of view, however while this image is not literally written on, as many of his other photographs are from this time, the surface is inscribed with an abstract pattern affecting the overall surface and posing a wider social question: ‘How do you view this?’

1. Edwards S, Accessed 13.06.2006
2. Yang W 1998, ‘William Yang: diaries: a retrospective exhibition, 25 years of social, personal and landscape photography’, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney p 18

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007



printed 1998

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph with hand-written text in black




33.0 x 40.5 cm image; 51.0 x 60.5 cm sheet

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. [image]., black ink "... William Yang... 1993...".


Purchased 1997


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

William Yang

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Judy Annear, Look, 'Points of view: changing attitudes and approaches in Australian photography 1985-95', pg.17-19, Sydney, Nov 2005, 19.

Judy Annear, Points of view: Australian photography 1985-95, Sydney, 2005, (illus.). no catalogue numbers

Bronwyn Clark-Coolee, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Time - memory - people', pg.246-265, Sydney, 2007, 252, 260 (illus.).

William Yang, William Yang, Friends of Dorothy, Sydney, 1997.