Sydney photographer William Yang was unexpectedly reunited with a former boyfriend, Allan Booth, while walking through ward 17 of Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital. It was 1988; they had not seen each other in four years. Yang took a photograph of Booth – a patient there, propped up in bed – and wrote on it in black felt tip pen: “He seemed like an old man and I had a strong desire to burst into tears.”

The photograph was among the first of a devastatingly truthful series that Yang would present as part of a slide photo talk called Sadness, later made into a documentary film. The series ended with a 1990 portrait of Booth’s deceased body, eyes and mouth open, a scarf reading “freedom from want” around his neck.

Richard Perram, an art curator who would become director of Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, had also dated Booth, an impish young man whom he remembers was “really lovely, and quite talented”. Perram had not known Booth had died when he went to see Yang perform Sadness live downstairs at Belvoir Street Theatre. Perram cried during the performance and a woman, a stranger, held his hand as the slides were projected, one by one, taking Booth from glowing presence pre-illness to hollow absence.

The Sadness series is part of The Unflinching Gaze, curated by Perram and now showing at Bathurst Regional Gallery: an extraordinary assemblage of provocative photographs from Australia and overseas, interrogating and celebrating the male figure, and privileging the perspective of same-sex attraction. In an era in which queer relationships are once again under intense challenge in Australia and elsewhere, these oft-autobiographical, pictorial tales of image-makers and their subjects is acutely apt. Read more