Ying Ang's Gold Coast is a manufactured fantasy world where shysters rule.
The Gold Coast is one of Australia's tourism hotspots; a long stretch of beautiful coastline, luscious rainforest and a flourishing metropolis. In short, it's a modern utopia—or at least that's what the tourism council say. Melbourne-based photographer Ying Ang takes a more sinister view in her forthcoming book Gold Coast and explains that beneath the blue sky and beautiful homes is corruption, racism and murder. According to her, there's trouble in this polished turd of a paradise, and the inhabitants of one of the most beautiful parts of Australia are living in a manufactured fantasy world where shysters rule.
VICE: Hey Ying, what's wrong with the Gold Coast?
Ying Ang: I moved to the Gold Coast aged 10 from Singapore. I had this fantasy of what life was going to be like in this new place. I was dreaming of being friends with all these blonde surfers but when I got there it was vastly different. The state of Queensland has the most racist reputation, it's pretty redneck. They would have Asian bashings at the school in town.
Was that the general tone of your time there?
I would be 13-years-old at a friend's place who's father owned properties around the Gold Coast, and he would offer us any drugs we wanted. 13-years-old and these middle-aged men are trying to give us drugs.
Is that culture of older men and younger girls still a problem?
Yeah, middle aged white men. People came to the Gold Coast to reinvent themselves, older guys with shady morals and this was just a funny playground to them. It was okay to be a shyster, this then created a culture of sleaze and everything just became accepted.
I guess it's all in the name.
Exactly! The thing is, initially in its development its beaches were not friendly: the waves are big, the tides are dangerous, the beaches weren't flat, it wasn't easy to market this place as being family friendly—but they did it. Why does everyone believe it's safe because its sunny, the streets are clean and the houses are nice? We have just been trained to believe in these icons of safety in the same way we believe in icons of danger.
What was the worst thing you encountered there?
I was 18 and at my friend's place who lived in a really nice part of town. Yelling came from down stairs and we went to check it out. There was blood everywhere. On the ceiling, fridge, everywhere. Two guys lay on the floor drowning in their own blood. I ran out the door and another was on the floor with a knife sticking out of his neck. After the attack there was a flood of photographers and journalists trying to get in touch. I was on the front page of the paper twice during my time there, once when I turned 18—my mum was a local socialite and philanthropist—and then again after these murders. Everything I experienced from the Gold Coast can be sandwiched between these two events: the false glamour, and the murders.
The false glamour is something that is so present in your images.
Because that's really what people want to believe in. If you pay for an idea that you believe in what is it going to take for you to see the truth? My friends that I grew up with saw what I saw, a lot of them decided to stay and their kids are going to the same schools where all this shit happened!
Your book is subtle with its leanings. Were you tempted to focus more heavily on those kinds of stories?
The Gold Coast for me wasn't at all about the terrible things that had happened there, it was how it's never talked about and never acknowledged. What is this water-tight fantasy that everybody has that stops them from seeing the truth? I wanted to document what I had so much trouble reconciling with about this place. And the way I wanted to shoot it was similar to the way it appeared. So looking at these pictures would you believe that all this other stuff happened as well? And if you knew this other stuff happened, would you just ignore it?
Tell me about the girl with the pink hair?
She's someone I saw hanging out and who I saw so much of myself in. She has this look as she's glancing over her shoulder and its pretty much how I felt the whole time I was living there. So that became quite a key image for me: this insecurity, paranoia, but with beautiful blue sky.
Whats with this extravagant dining room?
This is actually my family's dining room. It's all part of the fantasy really. This represents the environment that I lived in and therefore everything should be fine. Even after the murders I had terrible PTSD but no one ever spoke to me about it, just get a grip, look at your dining room!
Do you see a solution?
Not in the forceable future. I think the problems of the Gold Coast are not unique to the Gold Coast. I think it represents a much larger issue in western belief in this idea of the suburban paradise. There has been a lot of discourse on suburbia and emptiness, which says to me that it's on the consciousness of humanity; we are thinking about it. But I haven't seen work that puts forward a theory as to what it is that is wrong with it. This book is in a way a larger hypothesis as to why it's not right: because its manufactured, it's all just a facade. A veneer of health and prosperity and it doesn't matter what happens underneath that. It's the same theory as plastic surgery, if everything looks good on the outside nobody cares if it's falling apart on the inside. This attitude and cultural shift is what concerns me because if the larger
For more of Ang's work check out her site.