6 October, Blyth Performing Arts Centre
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival 2017
In a world where Instagram or Snapchat is the most prolific platform for storytelling with images, there is something very special about seeing a storyteller in person. Through their spoken tellings we are able to hear the soundtrack of their images. This turns the photograph into living colour, into 3D, into a purposeful moment. When in person, one can sense the emotion, and the energy of stories that have been crafted through lifetimes. It’s not instant. It’s life’s work. The work of life.
The evening begins for me with a community performance, a HBAF first. Three community members, Pereri King, Ricks Terstappen and Shannon Warren, share their stories on stage. Having worked closely with William Yang, each has the same basic ingredients to present their stories – images, a creative process, and most importantly, themselves. Each story-set however, is flavoured with the personality of the storyteller, and that of the photographs. With the risk of being cliché, I add that through Yang’s process, and through the stories and performers themselves, an easy “unity in diversity” is apparent. Each person has a them-shaped space to fill with story, and yet there is an unifying foundation – humanity. I find myself identifying with each presenter as they speak to their stories. These are stories that I know the feeling of, the sound of. These are stories that land in your heart and bring you to your knees. Yet these are everyday people, and everyday lives, and they are extraordinary. This indeed makes for some riveting humanity.
A sharply dressed William Yang stands at the podium, large screen projections of many generations worth of photographs glow behind him. He is warm and funny, personable and open. The audience has leaned in, fascinated. We are all interested in storytelling. We look to people’s stories, and our own, for guidance, reassurance, connection and contemplation. I think that this is because storytelling, and story receiving, is an innate part of being human, and holds value beyond what we can measure. Yang has confidently known, and held this value for a long time. He has much mana tangata – as a photographer, artist, and as a storyteller. Many accolades and awards have made their way to Yang, yet, as he speaks his monologue, it’s as if he’s sitting at the other end of my living room couch, with only cups of tea between us. This is how closely connected we can become in the light of each other’s courage to share our humanity.
It is clear that Yang is conscientious and very experienced in his process. Each story is a series of anecdotes, which accompanies the stunning photography. I reflect on the creative process of story making. I wonder what it is that might inform our stories and our storytelling. I think about what, for any person, might come to the fore, what may fall away, and what aspects of our stories take on a new sheen through the process of making.
Towards the end of the show, calmly and eloquently, Yang talks to the view that nature is the source, and force behind everything. Nature is always itself. I think about how that applies to our human nature, as the source and force behind our humanity. Perhaps always being ourselves, connects us to the strength of nature – and our true nature. Therefore, in the witnessing of other people being within their true nature, we recognise and connect to our own. I see that this is the catharsis, the medicine that can be summoned within us, when we value and speak our own stories – those only we can tell.